Update on Oral Arguments Before the Texas Supreme Court
On October 16, 2012 the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in our diocesan case involving a faction of former leaders who broke ties with The Episcopal Church but continue to hold themselves out as leaders of the Episcopal Diocese with access to its historic property. Immediately following those arguments, the Court heard arguments in the Masterson case involving a similar breakaway faction from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, San Angelo.
Thomas S. Leatherbury, a partner of Vinson & Elkins, LLP, presented arguments on behalf of Bishop Ohl and the loyal Episcopalians who serve and are recognized by The Episcopal Church as the authorized leaders of the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its institutions, with a right to use and control its property. Mary Kostel, Special Counsel to the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, presented arguments in the diocesan case on behalf of the Church. In the Masterson case from the Diocese of Northwest Texas, attorney Jim Hund from Lubbock presented arguments to the Court on behalf of the diocese and the authorized Episcopal rector and lay leaders from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and against the position of the former parish leaders who left the Church but continue to hold themselves out as leaders of the historic Episcopal parish and continue to use its property.
Bishop Wallis Ohl and Bishop Scott Mayer, Bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Texas, were both present in the courtroom.
The justices presented the attorneys on both sides with questions that reflected the justices’ familiarity with the case law and facts of the two cases. After all the extensive briefing the case, the attorneys for the Episcopal parties welcomed the Court’s questions, highlighting the central issues of First Amendment religious liberty in the related disputes that protect a hierarchical church’s right to choose who can lead its institutions and use its property.
As multiple justices noted, at the heart of both cases is the question of who are the Episcopal clergy and lay leaders authorized to sit on the Church’s boards that control property for the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church. These are core ecclesiastical decisions that only the Church can make, and which civil courts are bound to respect and apply under every legally permissible doctrine.
The cases were officially “submitted” to the Court at the close of the arguments, initiating the justices’ formal deliberation and resolution of both cases. The Court is under no deadline to issue an opinion. The Court generally will issue opinions in argued cases before the end of its term in August 2013.
The link to information about the justices here.
Briefing in the case is located here.