Texas Supreme Court Asks for Full Briefing in Good Shepherd Case

Last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a brief order asking for full briefing of the request for review, filed by the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo, Diocese of Northwest Texas, of the adverse decision of the Court of Appeal in Austin, which I critiqued in this earlier post. This is a positive sign of the Supreme Court's interest in the case, at the same time that it has before it Bishop Jack Iker's request that it review directly the adverse summary judgment decision in the Fort Worth case by Judge Chupp of the Tarrant County District Court.

The Texas Supreme Court had been on summer recess until lately. They meet to consider petitions on Fridays, and normally announce their disposition of the petitions the following Monday. Most petitions are dismissed without any further briefing whatsoever. If, after full briefing of the San Angelo case, they decide to accept it for review, they could either hold the Fort Worth case until the Good Shepherd case is decided, or they could accept it as well and decide both cases at the same time, or they could simply decide the Good Shepherd case, and assign the Fort Worth one back to the Court of Appeal for further hearing and decision in light of the opinion given in the San Angelo case.

The point is that the Texas Supreme Court has not yet signaled that it does not want to hear any cases involving the question of which standard Texas courts must apply to church property disputes: hierarchical deference, or "neutral principles of law". (Its last case involving such a question was decided in 1909, when there were no decisions upholding "neutral principles".) Instead, its request for full briefs in the San Angelo case sends just the opposite signal. Stay tuned to this blog for more as it happens.

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