Kendra Espinoza and a group of other low-income mothers brought the lawsuit on behalf of their children who attended Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell. The case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue went to trial on January 22, 2020. Scholars argued that individuals and firms who donate to scholarship groups in Montana could claim a tax deduction for their charitable contributions, owing to a 2015 law (Amy-howe, 2020). Soon afterward, the Montana Department of Revenue enacted Rule 1, prohibiting scholarship recipients from transferring funds to religious institutions such as private schools. The Espinoza and other mothers filed suit No. 1 in state court. As a result, the court granted the plaintiff’s summary judgment petition, concluding that Rule 1 was unconstitutional. When the Department of Revenue appealed, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling. Petitioner contended that Montana’s Supreme Court decision violated the First Amendment’s religion clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.
The case decided if the Montana Supreme Court had violated the First and 14th amendments by forbidding scholarship groups from donating to religious schools. The petitioner claimed that the court’s decision reflected discriminatory religious attitudes and violated the Equal Protection Clause. The fundamental question before the court was whether or not the state legislature allowed money for education while barring support for religious schools violated the federal Constitution’s Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause.
I was taken aback by how Supreme Court arguments are heard. My first assumption was that the main purpose of oral arguments was for the parties involved to present their reasons before the judges, who would then listen attentively. However, after listening to the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, I have discovered that oral arguments are participatory sessions involving the plaintiff, judges, and defendant. The judges’ skepticism of the two sides’ arguments was particularly refreshing. Furthermore, I was astonished that the judges did not make a judgment at the end of the oral argument period.
After hearing the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case, it is hard to dislike our justice system. To begin with, I was concerned that they were not comprehensive enough to prevent a defense attorney from making an argument based on shoddy research. As a lawyer, I have learned that the judges will scrutinize every piece of evidence offered when it comes time to represent a client in court. In addition, I have come to understand that our legal systems are just since the validity of each argument put out is scrutinized.
Application of Trinity
A violation of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc.’s First Amendment rights occurred when the Missouri Department of Natural Resources denied the church an otherwise available public benefit because of its religious affiliation. As evidenced by Trinity Lutheran, it is conceivable to strike a balance between free-exercise solid rights and other fundamental rights, and I have argued forcefully for this stance. Trinity Lutheran’s inclusion in tax credits, vouchers, or other school funding systems would undermine state sovereignty and systemic discrimination against religious minorities. As a result, members of marginalized groups cannot attend both religious and nonreligious private schools in many places.
Lastly, listening to the oral argument in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue has given me a better understanding of how a courtroom works. The issue was whether or not the Montana Supreme Court’s prohibition on scholarship groups from donating to religious schools violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. When I saw the judges and plaintiff engaged in a heated dispute, I was astonished. After hearing the justices’ arguments, I now have a more positive view of the justices and the legal system.
Amy-howe. (2020). Argument analysis: Justices divided in Montana school-choice case. SCOTUSblog. Web.