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SCOTUS in the Classroom: Trinity Lutheran v. Comer Decided

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SCOTUS in the Classroom: Trinity Lutheran v. Comer Decided

Street Law’s spring 2017 SCOTUS in the Classroom case is one we have been waiting for since early 2016. After granting cert in January of 2016, the Supreme Court waited a year to schedule oral argument for Trinity Lutheran v. Comer!  The case was finally heard on April 19, 2017, and Street Law encouraged teachers to feature it in class the week it was argued. The decision was announced on June 26, 2017.

This is a case from Missouri about government funding and religious organizations. Did Missouri’s refusal to award a playground resurfacing grant to a church violate the U.S. Constitution?

Missouri had a grant program that gave money to non-profits to pay for rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires. A church, Trinity Lutheran, applied for a grant, and their application was scored well. The Missouri state constitution has a clause that prevents government money from going to churches or other religious organizations, however. So the state refused to award a grant to the church.

The church objected, and sued the state in federal court. The church argues that the state discriminated against it on the basis of its religion, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. The state argues that its constitutional amendment is valid and helps ensure the separation of church and state. Thirty-eight other states have similar provisions in their constitutions, known as Blaine Amendments.

This case is an excellent vehicle for teachers to explore key issues in the law and American Government: It features both the First and Fourteenth Amendments, brings in the Blaine Amendments, and raises the issue of when state constitutions might violate the federal constitution. Street Law encourages teachers to use the case in class this spring. Teachers who want to conduct a moot court of this case can find all the relevant instructions on Street Law’s SCOTUS in the Classroom page. After teaching, listen to the actual oral arguments (available here) and obtain the transcript of the decision (available here).

Finally, about that delay in argument—the Court agreed to take on Trinity Lutheran’s case a month before Justice Scalia passed away. In a typical year, the case would have been argued in the spring or fall of 2016. SCOTUSblog reports: “Although there is no way to know with certainty what accounted for the delay, one possibility was that the justices were hoping to avoid a 4-4 tie, in the absence of a ninth justice.” The Court scheduled the case for argument after President Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch to the vacant seat.

About SCOTUS in the Classroom: Each year, Street Law selects a few of the most classroom-relevant, student-friendly cases being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and provide teachers with everything they need to conduct moot courts of each. Past cases are always available on our website!

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Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers

High School Law Course

SCOTUS in the Classroom

Teaching for Civic Engagement