The Supreme Court — a new session and a new justice

On Oct. 3, the Supreme Court of the United States opened its 2016-2017 term. There is only one religion-related case in the current docket — Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, which deals with church-state separation.

But looming over the current session is a question crucial to many groups, both religious and secular — who will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February? Scalia, a Roman Catholic, sat on the court for three decades and heavily influenced the way the Constitution has been interpreted. Donald Trump has submitted a shortlist of potential Supreme Court nominees, while Clinton has left people guessing. That present numerous possibilities for the future religious makeup of the court, currently composed of five Catholics (John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) and three Jews (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer).

This edition of ReligionLink is intended as a resource for covering the court as it considers the Trinity case on the brink of a new, post-Scalia era.

Cases to watch

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley — At issue is whether a state can exclude a church from a state-funded grant program to install rubber playground surfaces because it is a church. This case originated in Missouri, where the state constitution states, “No money shall be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

Moore v. Texas — This case involves capital punishment and how states determine if a criminal is ineligible for capital punishment due to an intellectual disability. While it it does not deal directly with questions of religion, this is a case many religious groups and individuals will be watching.



On the new session:

On a new justice:


  • Floyd Abrams

    Floyd Abrams is an attorney at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York City. He is an expert on the First Amendment and free speech. For 15 years he served as the William J. Brennan Jr. Visiting Professor of First Amendment Law at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

  • Jesse H. Choper

    Jesse H. Choper is emeritus professor of public law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is an expert on church-state issues and U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding religion. He is the author of Securing Religious Liberty: Principles for Judicial Interpretation of the Religion Clauses. He was a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren.

  • Caroline Mala Corbin

    Caroline Mala Corbin is a law professor at the University of Miami who specializes in First Amendment issues, including free speech and religious freedom. She regularly joins amicus briefs on religious issues that are filed with the Supreme Court.

  • Paul Finkelman

    Paul Finkelman is a professor of law and public policy at Albany Law School in New York. He is an expert in constitutional history and constitutional law, freedom of religion, the law of slavery, civil liberties and the American Civil War, baseball and the law and religious monuments in public spaces. He has written prolifically about the First Amendment and religion, including Landmark Decisions of the United States Supreme Court (with Melvin I. Urofsky).

  • Bryan A. Garner

    Bryan A. Garner is the founder and president of LawProse and a professor of law at Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas. He has personally interviewed nine Supreme Court Justices on writing and oral advocacy and co-authored two books with Antonin Scalia.

    Contact: 214-691-8588.
  • Richard Garnett

    Richard Garnett is a professor of law and political science at the University of Notre Dame. He is an expert on the Supreme Court, church-state issues, religious liberty and Catholic social thought.

  • Charles Haynes

    Charles C. Haynes is the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum Institute. He writes and speaks extensively on religious freedom and faith in public life, specializing in church-state conflict related to public schools.


    He can discuss the religion-related cases up before the court.

  • David T. Pride

    David T. Pride is executive director of the Supreme Court Historical Society, a nonprofit founded by Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1974 to preserve the history of the Supreme Court.

    Pride can discuss the court’s history of religious cases and the religion of some of its past justices.

    Contact: 202-543-0400.
  • Carrie Severino

    Carrie Severino is the chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network. She previously served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

    She can discuss Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley and Moore v. Texas.

  • Neil Siegel

    Neil Siegel is a professor of law and political science and co-director of the Program in Public Law at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on constitutional law and theory, and the Supreme Court. Much of his recent work has been on the Affordable Care Act. He clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.