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Supreme Court of the United States

Behind the Scenes: The Week of Trinity Lutheran Oral Arguments

By Jordan Lorence posted on:
October 17, 2017

Jordan Lorence, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, worked with the team of lawyers led by David Cortman for his oral argument April 19 before the U.S. Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. That case involves the State of Missouri’s denial of a grant to the church to reimburse it for a playground surface made of recycled tires—because of its state constitutional ban on aid to churches. This is the second part of a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations during the week preceding the oral arguments (view the first part here).


Monday, April 17


Morning: We have young people standing in line to get seats for the oral arguments. Our folks are the first people in line. It is raining, but it stops by midday. The line sitters consist of friends of my high-school-age son, Brent. They are holding spaces for clients and other friends of ADF. Brent buys hamburgers from the McDonald’s at Union Station to feed the horde. 

2:00 pm: We convene for David’s final moot court on the case. I thank God we had scheduled one for today, so we can try out our legal arguments that the governor’s actions last week did not moot the case. We have a great panel of judges with significant Supreme Court experience. They all agree that the Governor’s last-minute actions do not moot the case. 

After the moot court, David and Erik Stanley, one of the ADF attorneys who worked on the case at the lower courts, put the finishing touches on the letter to the Supreme Court.

4:30 pm: My son Brent, another young man, and I go to the Wal-Mart on H Street to buy water bottles and snacks for the line sitters. They are grateful for the mild, clear weather that has replaced the rain. I take ADF people to the Supreme Court during the day, as we plan for the oral arguments on Wednesday.

Also, it seems like, on every legal matter I have, something comes up that demands my attention. Do my legal matters have a collective consciousness that knows a big case is coming up, and they want to make my life difficult?

I do some last-minute preparation for my presentation tomorrow at The Heritage Foundation on the case. In Trinity Lutheran, the State of Missouri turned down the grant for the recycled tire playground surface because of its state constitution’s Blaine Amendment, an amendment named after the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1870’s who opposed Catholic immigrants and pressured states to pass amendments banning government aid for “sectarian” (code for Roman Catholic) schools. How ironic that the case of a Lutheran church is causing the Supreme Court to focus on the anti-Catholic roots of the Blaine Amendments.

Late: I call Brent. Everything is going fine with the line sitters. David had also sent around several additional drafts of the letter to the Supreme Court that explains why the case is not moot. It is looking good.

Rejected media talking point about this case: Trying to put together rap lyrics to support the case: “Use your brain, abstain from Blaine, it causes kids’ skinned knees that look like quiche lorraine and need xylocaine from the playground murrain.”

Steps I walked today, according to my phone app: 29,193 (many trips back and forth to the Supreme Court).

Tuesday, April 18

Morning: One of our line sitters had a bad night and developed a migraine. I meet with her to see how she is. She can stay during the daylight hours, but will need to go home by sundown on Tuesday. My son Justin, who is attending a local university, will fill in for her. Problem averted.

10:00 am: Our ace legal assistant, Natalie Wyman, prints out David Cortman’s letter to the Supreme Court on our position that the case is not moot. I walk the 40 copies up to the Supreme Court and give them to one of the deputy clerks. The State of Missouri also files its letter, and the State agrees with us that the case is not moot.

Noon: I am honored to participate in a panel on Trinity Lutheran at The Heritage Foundation, not far from our offices and the Supreme Court. We have a good turnout to hear about the important religious liberty issues in this case. The government does not show it is neutral towards religion when it treats churches worse than everyone else with its grant program.

Afternoon: Of course, all sorts of little problems explode during the afternoon. I must deal with them and put out the fires. I am praying that David is able to rest and focus on his last afternoon before the oral arguments. Brent and I buy pizzas for the line sitters. My son Justin arrives, and he replaces the young woman in line.

Evening: I speak to a group of people on what to watch for in the oral arguments tomorrow. I feel like a sports broadcaster explaining key match ups for the big game. My one hunch I tell them – Justices Breyer and Kagan may surprise some people by supporting Trinity Lutheran Church. We thought they would all along.

Throughout the day, attorneys call me for my best guess on when they should get in the attorneys line to watch the oral arguments. I give them my best guess (6:00 am), but offer to have my sons Brent and Justin text them when they see the attorneys line starting.

I stay at an Airbnb place two blocks from the Supreme Court, so I am close by to deal with any problems that might arise with the line sitters or anything else connected to the case. I finally fall asleep sometime after midnight. 

Wednesday, April 19

5:00 am:  The big day is here. I walk to McDonald’s at Union Station and buy Egg McMuffins to feed the line sitters. David texts me about something, and I ask him if he is feeling good and to make sure he hasn’t lost his voice or anything like that. Everything is fine. The long line of people waiting to see the oral arguments snakes halfway around the Supreme Court building.

7:30 am: A glorious morning. The people arrive for the oral arguments and swap places with the line sitters. We pass through security and wait to be seated in the august hall of the Supreme Court. This is exciting!

Approximately 10:15 am: After the justices read two opinions, and ADF CEO Michael Farris moves the admission of two attorneys, the Chief Justice says that they will now hear oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. David Cortman rises from his seat and walks to the podium. “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court …” Months and months of preparation. It has begun. And I am excited, but “tired.” 


To learn more about this case, visit the link below.

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Jordan Lorence

Jordan Lorence

Senior Counsel, Director of Strategic Engagement

Jordan Lorence serves as senior counsel and director of strategic engagement with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the Strategic Relations and Training Team.

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