Saturday, April 20, 2013

A.S. Haley: Problems with the Virginia Supreme Court’s Decision

Friday, April 19, 2013

For a judge, there is nothing so safe as subscribing to precedent, particularly if you do not have to re-examine it. You simply pronounce that you are following precedent, and add an entire string of case citations to "prove" you know what you are doing.

So it is with Justice Cleo E. Powell of the Virginia Supreme Court, the author of the decision in The Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church (USA), which awards all of the real and personal property of what was once the largest parish in the Diocese of Virginia to that entity. (The Diocese is unable to put the property to the full use of which it is capable -- the remnant parish cannot even fill the main chapel -- and so the multi-million-dollar property comes to it as a wholly unearned windfall. No doubt the Diocese will eventually sell the property --to any entity except the congregation from whom it seized it -- in order to recoup some of the costs incurred in fighting for it.)

In one of her first major opinions since joining the Court in 2011, Justice Powell takes refuge in a coppice of previously planted judicial underbrush to justify her quixotic result. That underbrush can conceal a multitude of judicial sins, consisting chiefly of abdications of judicial responsibility. It serves at best as a trap for the unwary, into which the tyro all too easily falls. But at its worst, as we see Justice Powell deploy her precedents in the Court's opinion, it simply grows and expands, without order or restraint... the rest


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