Tuesday, February 16, 2021


The South Carolina contingent that broke away from the Episcopal Church in 2012 and is now known as the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina has submitted its arguments to the South Carolina Supreme Court. On 12 February 2021, the ADSC filed "Initial Brief of Respondents" with the SCSC. This was in response to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina's brief to the Court of November 12, 2020. The EDSC is appealing the June 19, 2020 decision of Judge Edgar Dickson that found all in favor of the breakaway faction.

First, to review the salient facts in background:

---On Aug. 3, 2017, the SCSC issued a decision that listed three majority orders:  1-28 [actually 29] of the 36 parishes in question were property of the Episcopal Church, 2-Camp St. Christopher was property of the Episcopal trustees, and 3-7 parishes remained owners of their properties without trust control.

---ADSC asked for rehearing. The SCSC denied rehearing.

---SCSC sent a Remittitur order to the circuit court, the court of origin.

---ADSC asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant cert of its appeal of the SCSC decision. SCOTUS denied cert.

---June 19, 2020, the circuit court judge, Edgar Dickson issued an order rejecting Episcopal Church ownership of the properties in question. EDSC sent an appeal to the SCSC to uphold its 2017 decision.

---On Nov. 12, 2020, EDSC submitted its brief in its appeal to the SCSC. They essentially argued that the SCSC decision was final and that the circuit court had no right to reject it. They asked the SCSC to uphold and enforce the Aug. 3, 2017 SCSC decision.

On Nov. 15, 2020, I posted an item on the EDSC brief. Find it here .

Thus, there are two distinct stands here. 

1-EDSC argues that the SCSC decision is final law and cannot be altered. This means the Episcopal Church owns the 29 parishes and the Camp. SCSC must uphold its final decision.

2-ADSC argues that Judges Goodstein and Dickson were correct and that the SCSC decision of Aug. 3, 2017 was incorrectly made. They are now asking the SCSC to set aside its Aug. 3 decision and replace it with a new decision following Goodstein/Dickson.

So, in their brief, ADSC lawyers argue mostly that Goodstein and Dickson properly and correctly reached their conclusions. They also criticized the SCSC for its improper conclusions. The only solution to this, they said, was for the SCSC to issue a new decision correcting the deficiencies of the 2017 decision consistent with the careful jurisprudence of the lower court judges.

The crux of the matter is the ownership of the properties in question. In their 2017 decision, four of the five justices of the SCSC stated that the 29 parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon (one of the four, Kittredge, went on to say the parishes withdrew their accession while the other three held the accessions to remain valid). Three of the five justices also declared that the Episcopal diocese owned the Camp.

However, Judge Dickson ruled that the 29 parishes had not, in fact, acceded to the Dennis Canon, and could not be held under the terms of the trust. He directly contradicted the majority of the SCSC justices on the property issue. 

The question, then, is who is right, the majority of the SCSC or the circuit judge? ADSC argues the judge is right and EDSC argues the SCSC is right. EDSC essentially argues authority, that is, the SCSC has the authority to issue decisions that become final law and cannot be changed except by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not happened in this instance. 

What all the wordy leaglese of the two briefs boils down to is whether a final decision of the SCSC says what it says and must be upheld or can be changed by the SCSC upon a decision by the lower court. EDSC is asking to uphold the 2017 decision. ADSC is asking SCSC to replace the 2017 decision with a new one following the lower courts.

What the SCSC does about this depends on how the justices interpret the significance of this case. If they see it primarily as a matter of the institutional integrity of the state courts, they will interpret it as a question of the authority of a SCSC decision. On the other hand, if they see it primarily as an issue of the present day culture war, the may interpret it differently. They may want to bolster the side that stands for traditional social mores. The SCSC is quite conservative and has two new justices who were not there for the 2017 decision. If they think the SCSC should use its power to diminish the "radical liberal" Episcopal Church, it  may side with the reactionaries. So, is this case a matter of jurisprudence or of culture? That is the issue before the SCSC. We can have no way of knowing at this point how the high court will tend.

What now? These two briefs were "initial," that is, the first ones. We can expect responding briefs, perhaps several before the two sides are satisfied they have said all they need to say.

Everyone is keeping an eye on the U.S. Supreme Court. It will probably announce next Monday whether it will grant cert to the Episcopal Church appeal of the Texas Supreme Court decision that awarded all to the breakaway contingent of Ft. Worth. If SCOTUS grants cert, it will probably issue a decision by the end of its term, usually June or July. If they deny cert, the TX SC decision will stand as final.


My usual disclaimer. I am not a lawyer or legal expert and what I offer here is only opinion.