Tomorrow, the American Humanist Association’s Monica Miller will do something most lawyers can only dream about: She’ll argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in a major church/state separation case. The AHA says that a giant Christian cross in Maryland is an establishment of religion by the government, while her opponents claim that it’s a totally secular World War I memorial… that just happens to be in the shape of a cross.
As a non-lawyer but frequent observer of the Court, it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like pleading a case in front of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or facing the bloc of conservative justices knowing they’re probably out to demolish my case. But that’s what Miller has been preparing for for months now.
She was kind enough to answer some of my questions this week, as she continued prepping for Wednesday morning’s oral arguments.
How have you been preparing for the oral arguments?
I’ve been reading and re-reading everything — cases, our record (all 4,000 pages), the briefs — and answering questions I anticipate the Court will ask. I also did two moot courts.
What advice have you received from other attorneys who have argued in front of the Court? T
he best advice I was given was that I will be given conflicting advice and to go with my gut.What do you think the more conservative justices will ask about in order to trip you up?
Maybe something really out of left field that isn’t on my radar (or anyone else’s for that matter).
Is there a justice or two you’re particularly focusing on with your arguments? Is this whole thing just a pitch to Chief Justice John Roberts?
I’m focusing my arguments on those that are likely to win, not on any particular justice. For instance, I wouldn’t assume we have Justice Breyer’s vote, but I wouldn’t automatically discount Justice Alito either. There were some very compelling pro-Christian arguments in the Baptist Joint Committee brief [read it here] as to why government-sponsorship of the Latin cross degrades religion. Maybe it will make them think twice.
Other than general nerves, what are your thoughts about arguing in front of this Court?
I’m excited and nervous! I know I’ll be the least experienced litigator before the Court that day (my opponents are regulars before the Supreme Court) but I am confident in our arguments.
How do you plan to spend the day after the oral arguments?
Not working! I really haven’t had more than a few days off in the past 4 months (after all, this is not my only case) so just not doing work will be nice. Of course, I’ll have a celebratory drink or two (or ten)!
We’ll be watching… or at least listening to the audio as soon as its posted tomorrow.