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At first, it was a fairly typical day for Galveston lawyer Anthony Griffin. His office was closed in observance of “Juneteenth” on June 19. But he still had a full day’s work to do. Griffin was in Houston early, defending a pharmacist alleged to have illegally doled out drugs. Then he was back in Galveston, Texas, representing a city council candidate in an election dispute, before picking a jury for a DWI case in which he is representing the defendant. Then came the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It was his first Supreme Court case, and he won, successfully arguing against a school’s policy allowing students to say a prayer over the public address system at high school football games. Griffin was the plaintiffs’ attorney in the celebrated case of Doe v. Santa Fe Independent School District. “I’m happy the court upheld the law,” says Griffin, whose practice is about one-third constitutional and civil rights law. He says people’s rights to pray are not affected by the ruling. Santa Fe High School simply went too far by imposing prayer on the public in general. “We were trying to educate the public and the court that we’re not talking about the rights of a student to say a prayer at a football game,” Griffin says. “I’m ecstatic that the court understood that.” Writing for the majority in the 6-3 ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote: “Even if we regard every high school student’s decision to attend a home football game as purely voluntary, we are nevertheless persuaded that the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.” “It bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life,” Chief Justice William H: Rehnquist wrote in a strongly worded dissent. Griffin, of the law firm of Anthony Griffin Inc., faced off at the Supreme Court against Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice. Based in Virginia, ACLJ, founded by Pat Robertson, often fights for the rights of religious groups to promote the gospel along with pro-life and pro-family causes. Sekulow is no stranger before the high court, having now argued there nine times during the past 11 years. Sekulow has successfully represented Jews for Jesus, a group wanting to distribute religious literature in airport terminals. He successfully argued to the court that schools allowing space for clubs and nonschool activities must also allow student Bible clubs. In 1997′s Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, Sekulow was lead counsel and presented the oral argument at the Supreme Court. In an 8-1 ruling, the court struck down the constitutionality of “floating bubble zones” that limited protests around abortion clinics. “We won until yesterday,” Sekulow said, the day after the Santa Fe ruling. “This was our first real defeat [before the Supreme Court].” Sekulow says the Santa Fe case was factually and legally difficult for him to argue, compared to other Supreme Court cases he has handled. And he says it becomes harder to argue before the court over time. “I think when you’re up there more frequently, the expectations of the court are higher.” Sekulow attacks the court ruling in this case, saying it “distorts the First Amendment by exhibiting hostility toward student speech” and will “interject additional confusion into the area of protected religious expression in the schools.” At the Supreme Court, Sekulow yielded some of his time to Texas attorney general and former Texas Supreme Court Justice John Cornyn. In a brief statement, Cornyn said he was disappointed with the decision and agreed with dissenting justices that it “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.” An aide to Cornyn says that he was not making any further comments at this time, despite several requests by Texas Lawyer to talk with the attorney general. UNDERESTIMATED? Griffin says he thinks opposing lawyers, with all their Supreme Court experience, underestimated him. “Of course they did,” Griffin says. “They figured I was just a black lawyer from a small town, a good ol’ Southern lawyer.” He alleges opposing counsel made comments about him, but will not elaborate. Griffin says the opposition didn’t fully realize his credentials and his background in constitutional law. Sekulow says he has nothing but respect for Griffin. Sekulow says he knew Griffin was a competent lawyer and that he did a good job on the case and in arguments before the high court. Sekulow insists he said nothing negative about Griffin and does not believe any of his colleagues said or did anything disparaging. Sekulow appeared before the high court as recently as March, when he argued in a Colorado case that limits on protests outside of all health care facilities and not just outside abortion clinics were overly broad. A ruling from the court is pending. A case out of Alabama, Chandler v. James, might be Sekulow’s next trip to the Supreme Court. A high school valedictorian was enjoined from engaging in prayer during his speech at graduation. Those limits were removed by the 11th Circuit, and Sekulow says the ACLU appealed to the Supreme Court. A ruling from the court — to take the case, reject it or send it back to the circuit court for reconsideration in light of Santa Fe — is pending. Sekulow, 44, says he has found his calling in religion law. He previously worked in private practice, mainly handling corporate tax issues. Before that, Sekulow was a government prosecutor for the Internal Revenue Service. In 1986, Sekulow says he joined the staff at Jews for Jesus and soon had his first case before the Supreme Court — the airport literature case. Sekulow says he never realized that he might become a regular visitor at the nation’s highest court. Griffin, 45, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, is no stranger to controversy. In 1993, Griffin was fired from his job as chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Texas for agreeing to represent the Ku Klux Klan. Griffin says everyone has a constitutional right to assembly and free speech, even though he personally is opposed to the Klan’s message. As a volunteer lawyer with the ACLU, Griffin says he had no choice but to take the case, in which Klan members were alleged to have harassed and intimidated blacks living in a Vidor, Texas, public housing project, and the group had been ordered to hand over its membership rolls. Later, Griffin represented the Klan as it unsuccessfully sought to “adopt” a stretch of highway running through Vidor. “I just took the position it was no big deal,” Griffin says. “My race is not an issue.” The Santa Fe case, despite the Supreme Court ruling, is not yet entirely played out. Griffin says he will now head back to federal district court to seek legal fees from the other side and an injunction ordering the school to comply with the ruling and to refrain from engaging in the illegal prayer activity. He says comments allegedly made by the pro-prayer side of the issue indicate they might not comply with the court ruling. As for his trip to the high court, Griffin says it was different than he had expected. “I think it’s more intimate than you would conceptualize,” Griffin says. The lawyers are close to the justices. Unlike federal panels of judges, during which one of the judges asks most of the questions, many of the Supreme Court justices fire away with pointed questions. “It allows for oral advocacy at its best,” Griffin says. In one exchange, Griffin argued that football games are part of an official school program, a key piece of the argument against the public address prayer ritual at Santa Fe High School. “No one has to go to a football game,” Rehnquist countered. Griffin replied that attendance is mandatory for band members, cheerleaders and the team members themselves. “Is anyone forced to be a band member or cheerleader?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia. Griffin shot back, “When you’re a teenager? Yes.” Based on the judges’ questions and comments at oral arguments, Griffin felt he was likely to win.

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