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Lesson Plan – Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

Certiorari Granted by the United States Supreme Court on June 28, 2019

The Parties

  • Petitioners: Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Ellen Anderson and Jaime Schaefer are mothers whose children attend Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, MT
  • Respondent: The Montana Department of Revenue

The Question Presented

Does it violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?

(This competition will not consider the Equal Protection Clauses).

Case Background

In 2015, the Montana legislature enacted the “Tax Credit for Qualified Education Contributions” Act. Under this law, Individuals can donate money to private, nonprofit scholarship organizations, and receive up to a $150 tax credit. These organizations can use these funds to pay for scholarships for students at “qualified education providers.” One scholarship organization, Big Sky Scholarships, planned to award scholarships to students at both religious and nonreligious schools.

Article X, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution provides:

“The legislature, counties, cities, towns, school districts, and public corporations shall not make any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies, or any grant of lands or other property for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

To comply with the state constitution, the Montana Department of Revenue issued Rule 1. This regulation provided that the scholarship could not be provided to students at “a church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, literary or scientific institutions, or any other sectarian institutions owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination.” As a result, Big Sky could not award scholarships to students at Stillwater Christian School, a religious academy in Kalispell, Montana.

The Plaintiffs, Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Ellen Anderson and Jaime Schaefer, are mothers whose children attend Stillwater Christian School. The parents argued that Rule 1 violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. They further claim that the Tax Credit Program, as originally drafted, was constitutional; the addition of Rule 1 was unnecessary.

The District Court ruled for the plaintiffs. It held that that the Tax Credit Program, as originally enacted, was constitutional. The court found that the issuance of Rule 1 may violate the First Amendment. Therefore, judgment was entered for the Plaintiffs.

On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the District Court. It found that the Tax Credit Program violated the Montana Constitution. Absent Rule 1, the policy would aid sectarian schools. The state court found that Rule 1 did not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The parents appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. They argued that Rule 1 violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The parents contend that it is unconstitutional to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program afforded students the choice of attending religious schools. In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on the basis of both constitutional questions. All of the briefs can be found on this page.

The Law

U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

Montana Constitution, Article X, Section 6:

“The legislature, counties, cities, towns, school districts, and public corporations shall not make any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies, or any grant of lands or other property for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole in part by any church, sect or denomination.”

Supreme Court Cases

 

 

Historical Sources

 

 

Tournament Instructions

Resolved: 

Does it violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?

  • Petitioners will argue that the Free Exercise Clause prohibits states from withholding funding from student aid programs because the  money may be given to religious schools.
  • Respondents will argue that the Free Exercise Clause does not prohibit states from withholding funding from student aid programs because the money may be given to religious schools.

Using historical materials related to the Free Exercise Clause, and the precedents of the United States Supreme Court, teams of two high school students will write an appellate brief addressing this question. Please do not discuss the issues concerning the Equal Protection Clause.

The Brief:

Coaches can register their teams at the Institute of Competition Sciences. After registering, teachers should contact the Harlan Institute and ConSource at info@HarlanInstitute.org, and we will randomly assign teams to argue on behalf of the Petitioner or the Respondents.

Teams will upload their briefs to the Institute of Competition Sciences page in PDF format. The brief should have the following sections:

  1. Table of Cited Authorities: List all of the original sources, and other documents you cite in your brief.

  2. Statement of Argument: State your position succinctly in 250 words or less.

  3. Argument: By relying on at least two primary historical sources and at least three Supreme Court precedents in this lesson plan, structure an argument about Rule 1 and the Free Exercise Clause. The more authorities you cite, the stronger your argument will be–and the more likely your team will advance.

  4. Conclusion: Summarize your argument, and argue how the Supreme Court should decide this issue.

The brief should be submitted by February 21, 2020. The brief must be a minimum of 2,000 words. Please review the winning briefs from from previous years:

Be sure to proofread your work. The work must be yours, and you may not seek help from anyone else–including attorneys or law students. Students who submit plagiarized briefs will be disqualified.

Preliminary Oral Arguments:

In addition to the brief, each team must submit a YouTube video of their oral arguments. We will provide Coaches with questions to ask, who can supplement the moot with their own questions. Each argument must be at least ten minutes in length. A link to the videos must be be uploaded to the Institute of Competition Sciences by Friday, February 21, 2020.

For examples of how the arguments should be structured please watch some of the submissions from past years.

Oral Arguments Semifinals

The top twelve teams will advance to the oral argument semifinals, which will be held virtually over Google Hangout on April 4, 2019. Oral arguments will be judged based on our scoring rubric. More information will be provided about the semifinals after the briefs are submitted. You can see the video from the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 competitions.

Oral Arguments Championship Round

The final round of the Virtual Supreme Court Competition will be held in Washington, D.C. The Harlan Institute and ConSource will sponsor the top two teams, and their teachers, for a trip to Washington, D.C. in May 2019 to debate in front of a panel of expert judges, including lawyers, university level debate champions, and legal scholars. (The exact date will be announced later.)

The Prizes

Grand Prize – The Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS

The members of grand-prize winning team, the Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS, and their teacher, will receive a free trip, including airfare and one night of hotel accommodations, to New York to attend the ConSource Constitution Day celebration in September 2020. This offer is open to U.S. residents only.

Second Prize

Members of the runner-up team will each receive an iPad Mini.

Third Prize

Members of the third and fourth place teams will each receive a $100 Amazon.com gift card.

Honorable Mention

Each student that advances to the semifinals will receive a copy of Professor Blackman’s book, An Introduction to Constitutional Law.

Instructions

Please send any questions to info@harlaninstitute.org or info@consource.org.