THE FEDS STRIKE ONCE AGAIN
The judges of the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, have ruled, unanimously, again. And, once again, as before they have remanded the case to the U.S. District Court in Charleston with directions to proceed. See the article in scepiscopalians.com here . See also the article from ECSC, here .
Yesterday, February 21, 2017, three judges of the 4th Circuit issued a decision. Two of the three had sat on the first appeal, Motz and Gregory. Yesterday's decision, as the first, was written by Judge Motz. The judges said very clearly that the U.S. District court must adjudicate this case: "Because the state and federal cases involve different parties and different claims, the district court abused its discretion under Colorado River by abstaining in favor of the state court proceedings." The elderly judge C. Weston Houck could not help but get this message of reprimand from his superiors. The three judges also reiterated the principle that federal law is superior to state law. They have ordered the district court in Charleston to reopen the case and proceed with it.
It remains to be seen how the district court will proceed. It is hard to imagine that the judges in Charleston would defy direct orders of their superiors a second time.
If the proceedings do return in federal court, the Episcopal Church side will have the stronger hand. Federal courts have consistently sided with the national church and its dioceses.
In the federal case, Bishop vonRosenberg sued Mark Lawrence under the terms of the federal Lanham Act. Lawrence claimed to be the Episcopal bishop even though he had left the Episcopal Church and the Church had recognized vonRosenberg as the legitimate Episcopal bishop. Interesting to note that at the time of the schism in 2012 and immediate thereafter, Lawrence made a major effort to project himself as the Episcopal bishop and his organization as the Episcopal diocese. Soon, however, he and his aides dropped the word Episcopal, except in legal contexts, and now always refer to themselves as "Anglicans." Actually, they are Anglican in self-designated name only. They are not now and almost certainly never will be in the Anglican Communion. The Diocese of South Carolina is really neither Episcopal nor Anglican.
So, it is back to the U.S. District court in Charleston.