We caught up with ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman after last week’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. Here’s what he had to say about the oral arguments, how they went, the principle behind the case, and how it feels to be done.
How do you think oral arguments at the Supreme Court went?
We think that it couldn’t have gone better in the courtroom. Which was fantastic—not only because of the type of questions that the state received – but also the breadth of the justices that asked those questions. It clearly crossed ideological lines. It didn’t matter what side – people like to say that certain justices are on one side of a line or the other. It seemed like the majority of justices from both sides were concerned about this principle: that the state could offer this neutral government benefit and then, solely because of the religious status of an organization, just remove them from that benefit. And that obviously violates the Free Exercise Clause because you’re treating religious people worse than everybody else, and it didn’t look like the court was having anything to do with that.
What principle is at stake in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case?
It’s an extremely important principle. So, it’s neat facts about the kids and the playground. Right? You have the safety issue. But there really is an important principle of whether it’s okay for the government to single out religious people or religious organizations solely because of who they are and then deny them a government benefit that they otherwise would get if it wasn’t for their religious status. And that principle could be applied in numerous different contexts. It really is an extremely important principle for the court to say is impermissible for the state to discriminate in that way.
How does it feel to be done with oral arguments at the Supreme Court?
Obviously, it feels great. Especially when it went that well, and I think that’s really the key. Because you do months of preparation. This case has been going on for years. Our team has been working on this, reading every case, and getting to all the different theories. There was one question from the Everson case, which was back in the 1940’s, and you have to know the case and have a response to it. There’s just a lot of work, a lot of preparation. It’s just fantastic to be on the other side of it now, and hopefully with a good opinion coming from the court, which is obviously the most important part.
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