This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Editor’s Note: Kelsey is on maternity leave, but this newsletter isn’t. Before signing off, Kelsey prepped a few editions of State of Faith that will appear in your inbox about once per month throughout the summer.

Call me strange, but I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

Among other things, I wonder about how you prepare for the justices’ many questions, how you learn to sound confident but not snotty and how you figure out what to wear.

In April, attorney Lori Windham indulged my curiosity by answering several questions about her experience arguing a Supreme Court case in November 2020.

Windham, who is vice president and senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, represented a Catholic foster care agency and two foster moms in the lawsuit, which I covered for the Deseret News. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the city of Philadelphia needed to offer faith-based exemptions to its nondiscrimination rules.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Kelsey Dallas: Did you participate in arguments by phone or video call?

Lori Windham: It was by phone. The Supreme Court did not do any video arguments.

KD: How did you check your technology ahead of time? Were you anxious about having technical difficulties?

LW: The Supreme Court was really good about this. They had very specific procedures that we followed, like having a back-up phone and even a back-up back-up phone. We had to get a land line installed in our office, since the court wanted a land line instead of a cellphone.

There was also a test run that the court scheduled in advance. A group of attorneys all got on the line with the clerk’s office to try out the technology.

KD: Were you the first attorney in your professional circle to do remote arguments or were you able to hear about others’ experiences?

LW: I was really fortunate because (Becket) actually had two other remote arguments in 2020, and so I had a lot of experience to pull on.

It was really helpful to talk to my colleagues who had prepared for that and get their feedback on what it was like.

KD: I assume part of the strangeness of doing oral arguments by phone is that you couldn’t read the justices’ body language.

LW: Definitely. You can listen for tone of voice, but you can’t see if they’re shaking their head at you while you’re talking or something like that. It makes it harder.

In my practice sessions, which took place by video call, I had people keep their cameras off so I could get used to not seeing reactions. People would fire questions at me and I could only observe their voice.

After we got through their questions, we’d turn the cameras back on for feedback and discussion.

KD: Tell me more about how you prepared for the arguments.

LW: I think I had six practice sessions in total. One of the best parts of preparing for Supreme Court argument is you get to have a bunch of really smart, talented attorneys give you hard questions and then critique your answers. With them, you talk about (the) best way to argue the case.

I had I believe three external sessions with people who aren’t affiliated with Becket and another three with members of our team. They were spread out throughout the fall.

KD: Do you remember what you felt like the morning of oral arguments?

LW: D.C. was kind of eerie that morning. It was the morning after the 2020 presidential election, and I felt like I was (the) only person in D.C. who was awake yet as I made my way to the office.

I was trying my best to not even pay attention to the election news. The election hadn’t been called yet.

I was trying my best to not get distracted. It was a weird sensation for something that’s momentous for your clients and momentous for you to be happening and everyone else’s attention being somewhere else.

KD: So you called into oral arguments from Becket’s office rather than from home?

LW: I called in from a conference room at Becket’s offices. It was an interior room, so there was no street noise.

I was with Becket president Mark Rienzi. He was my second chair that day, so he was with me in the conference room.

Other colleagues were down the hall out of earshot. They were able to listen and have their own discussion, and they could pass us some notes in between the main part of the argument and my rebuttal. Usually, you can only get feedback from your second chair, so that was unique.

KD: Did you still dress up even though arguments took place by phone?

LW: I bought a new suit when we found out the Supreme Court would hear the case. It wasn’t clear at the time if we’d be in person or not.

So I still wore my new suit, but I wore comfortable shoes, not heels.

KD: What moment from oral arguments stands out to you most today, more than two years after they took place?

LW: The moment that stands out is the moment we were done. We had worked so hard on the case, and we’d lost all the way up (through the lower courts.) It was amazing to finish that argument and sit back and feel like we were going to win.

We didn’t know at that time what the ultimate decision would be, but, coming out of argument, we felt really good about it. We ended up winning unanimously.

KD: Did you do anything unique to celebrate after oral arguments?

LW: During the COVID-19 pandemic and with the presidential election still going on, there was no going out. So I just went back home and relaxed and tried to catch up on the news.

One really cool thing about that day and doing the arguments by phone and not in the courtroom is that my husband and daughter were able to be at the office with me. They wouldn’t have been able to be there if I had done it in person.

One of my clients was also there with her two boys. The boys were in the back of the office with crayons and candy and snacks. She was with my husband and daughter near the conference room where I was, and they were listening to the live feed of oral arguments. It was really special to have them there.

KD: Are you hoping to do an in-person Supreme Court argument someday? 

LW: Yes. Now, I’ve got to find the right case.


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Term of the week: Mayordomo

In rural communities in the American Southwest, the term mayordomo refers to non-ordained, or lay, Catholics, who care for the Adobe chapels threatening to crumble back into dust, according to The Associated Press.

These chapels, constructed by early Catholic missionaries to the United States, are rarely used for worship services today. But they’re still important to the families who have been in the region for decades if not centuries. That’s why some members of these families give up their free time to care for them.

“Our ancestors put blood and sweat in this place for us to have Jesus present. This is the root of my faith,” said Angelo Sandoval to The Associated Press. He serves as a mayordomo in Cordova, New Mexico.

The work of a mayordomo can range from basic cleaning to protecting sacred relics from damage. They are also often engaged in restoration efforts, which may include applying for grant funds to use on chapel repairs.

Current mayordomos and other Catholic leaders are dedicated to this work but worry that a time will soon come when resources used on the old chapels run out, The Associated Press reported. They’re trying to teach young people in the area to care for the churches as deeply as they do.


What I’m reading...

As concern grows that college students today are more likely to “shout down” unpopular opinions than celebrate free speech, some institutions are creating new on-campus programs to teach the art of civil discourse, according to The Washington Post.

The mostly U.S.-funded effort to expand access to HIV treatment in Africa has been a major success. U.S. officials estimate that George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved 25 million lives. Since 2000, life expectancy in Africa has jumped by 10 years. But today, those achievements are threatened by rising partisanship. Christianity Today recently reported on the growing fear that tensions between Democrats and Republicans in Washington will lead to a significant drop in funding for HIV treatment.


Odds and ends

The most popular recipe in The New York Times’ online database “is everything the modern New York Times’ cooking section isn’t,” according to Nieman Lab. It is old-fashioned beef stew, and it has more than 19,000 (mostly positive) reviews.