Argument analysis: Justices leaning toward a ruling for Trinity Lutheran on the merits
When the Supreme Court heard oral argument this morning in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, a Missouri church’s challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides grants to nonprofits to allow them to resurface their playgrounds with recycled tires, all eyes were on the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. After all, the conventional wisdom went, the other eight justices were likely deadlocked on the case and were expecting him to cast the tiebreaking vote, which is why they waited nearly 15 months after granting review before hearing oral argument. That may well have been true, but it was certainly not how it seemed to play out in the courtroom today. After roughly an hour of oral argument, the state seemed to have only two certain votes – those of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Moreover, the justices seemed inclined to go ahead and decide the case even though Missouri had announced last week that it had changed the policy at issue in the case to allow churches to compete for the grants in the future. The end result could be an important ruling on the disbursement of funds by state and local governments to religious institutions.