Thomas David Van Orden (September 1, 1944 – November 11, 2010) was an American lawyer who challenged the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Van Orden v. Perry , 125 S. Ct. 2854 (2005).
A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, canonist, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution; the status of a law, a procedure, or an act's accordance with the laws or guidelines set forth in the applicable constitution. When one of these directly violates the constitution, it is unconstitutional. All the rest are considered constitutional until challenged and declared otherwise, typically by courts through judicial review.
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in the Abrahamic religions. The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Hebrew Bible: in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The commandments include instructions to worship only God, to honour one's parents, and to keep the sabbath day holy, as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting. Different religious groups follow different traditions for interpreting and numbering them.
Van Orden is lesser known for In Re Van Orden, 559 S.W.2d 805, Tex. Crim. App., (1977) in which he was punished as an attorney for contempt by the highest criminal court in Texas.
Contempt of court, often referred to simply as "contempt", is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court. A similar attitude towards a legislative body is termed contempt of Parliament or contempt of Congress.
A native Texan born in Fort Worthwho spent part of his boyhood in Tyler, Van Orden graduated from the University of North Texas and then earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University School of Law. Van Orden described himself as a "religious pluralist."
Tyler is the county seat of Smith County, located in east-central Texas, United States. The city of Tyler has long been Smith County's major economic, educational, financial, medical, and cultural hub. The city is named for John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States. Tyler had a population of 96,900 in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau, and Tyler's 2017 estimated population was 104,991. It is 100 miles (160 km) east-southeast of Dallas. Tyler is the principal city of the Tyler Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had a population of 209,714 in 2010, and is the regional center of the Tyler-Jacksonville combined statistical area, which had a population of 260,559 in 2010.
The University of North Texas (UNT) is a public research university in Denton, Texas. Eleven colleges, two schools, an early admissions math and science academy for exceptional high-school-age students from across the state, and a library system comprise the university core. Its research is driven by about 38 doctoral degree programs. North Texas was founded as a nonsectarian, coeducational, private teachers college in 1890 and was formally adopted by the state 11 years later. UNT is the flagship institution of the University of North Texas System, which includes additional universities in Dallas and Fort Worth. UNT also has a satellite campus in Frisco.
Thomas Van Orden was a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He was initially assigned to be an Army helicopter door gunner but was reassigned to the Judge Advocate General's Corps and tasked with preparing wills for his fellow soldiers. Thomas's older brother was killed in action in the same conflict. His brother, a Navy pilot, served aboard the same carrier as future senator and presidential contender John McCain. Like his brother, Van Orden later became a civil pilot as well as an instructor.
The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war, considered a Cold War-era proxy war by some, lasted 19 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, which ended with all three countries becoming communist in 1975.
The Judge Advocate General's Corps is the branch or specialty of a military concerned with military justice and military law. Officers serving in a JAG Corps are typically called judge advocates. Only the chief attorney within each branch is referred to as the Judge Advocate General; however, individual JAG Corps officers are colloquially known as JAGs.
A will or testament is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons, the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.
After his service, Thomas Van Orden returned to Tyler to practice law, and this included a tenure as attorney for the City of Tyler. Van Orden was also appointed to represent clients by the Hon. William Wayne Justice, the U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Texas, sitting in Tyler. Van Orden subsequently relocated to Houston to focus his practice on criminal defense before eventually again moving his law practice to Austin. His license to practice law was suspended in December 1999for "disciplinary sanctions" and "default in payment of occupation tax."
William Wayne Justice was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
Houston is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Texas, fourth most populous city in the United States, as well as the sixth most populous in North America, with an estimated 2018 population of 2,325,502. Located in Southeast Texas near Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, it is the seat of Harris County and the principal city of the Greater Houston metropolitan area, which is the fifth most populous metropolitan statistical area in the United States and the second most populous in Texas after the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, with a population of 6,997,384 in 2018.
A criminal defense lawyer is a lawyer specializing in the defense of individuals and companies charged with criminal activity. Some criminal defense lawyers are privately retained, while others are employed by the various jurisdictions with criminal courts for appointment to represent indigent persons; the latter are generally called public defenders. The terminology is imprecise because each jurisdiction may have different practices with various levels of input from state and federal law or consent decrees. Some jurisdictions use a rotating system of appointments, with judges appointing a private practice attorney or firm for each case.
Van Orden v. Perry was presented before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2005. For the final appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court Van Orden's was represented by Erwin Chemerinsky, an American lawyer, law professor, and prominent scholar in United States constitutional law and federal civil procedure. The contention was that a large granite monument carved with the Ten Commandments, on display on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin, violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005), was a United States Supreme Court case involving whether a display of the Ten Commandments on a monument given to the government at the Texas State Capitol in Austin violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the U.S. Constitution. It is also able to strike down presidential directives for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.
Erwin Chemerinsky is an American lawyer and scholar known for his studies in United States constitutional law and federal civil procedure. He served as the founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law from 2008 to 2017, and is currently the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
Van Orden argued that Texas "accepted" the monument "for the purpose of promoting the Commandments as a personal code of conduct for youths and because the Commandments are a sectarian religious code, their promotion and endorsement by the State as a personal code contravenes the First Amendment." He asserted that the district court's finding that the State had a secular purpose for the display is not supported by the evidence and that a reasonable viewer would perceive the display of the Decalogue as a State advancement and endorsement of religion favoring the Jewish and Christian faiths. Excerpted: 351 F.3d 173 U.S., 5th Cir (2003).
In a decision reached June 27, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 against Van Orden. The opinion has several notable distinctions. It is one of the last opinions delivered by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Rehnquist wrote the plurality opinion upholding the constitutionality of a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas state capitol in Austin:
"Our cases, Janus-like, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history.... The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom."
This opinion was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas; Breyer filed a separate opinion concurring in the plurality's judgment. It is perceived as undermining the legacy of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's contribution to American jurisprudence by the majority's rejection of the Lemon test as announced in Lemon v. Kurtzman , 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Several books have since been written about the case.
Van Orden is also considered noteworthy because he was at the time of his lawsuit and during the litigation destitute and homeless, living out of a tent. The media thus dubbed him "The Homeless Lawyer", a label Van Orden expressed distaste for, stating, "What do you think defines me: where I slept or what I did all day?"However, when friends put him up in an apartment, he soon left to return to his tent in the woods.
Suffering from depression during professional and financial troubles, he was divorced in the 1990s.In early 1992 Thomas Van Orden resided in Henderson, Texas, taking shelter at various locations, including First United Methodist Church and using the city library.
At the age of 66, Van Orden died at a Temple, Texas, hospital and was buried at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.
Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985), was a United States Supreme Court case deciding on the issue of silent school prayer.
Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1 (2004), was a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit, originally filed as Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. in 2000, led to a 2002 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are an endorsement of religion and therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. After an initial decision striking the congressionally added "one nation under God" language, the superseding opinion on denial of rehearing en banc was more limited, holding that compelled recitation of the language by school teachers to students was invalid.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida, forbidding the "unnecessar[y]" killing of "an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption", was unconstitutional.
In United States law, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, together with that Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, form the constitutional right of freedom of religion. The relevant constitutional text is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...".
McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844 (2005), was a case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on March 2, 2005. At issue was whether the Court should continue to inquire into the purpose behind a religious display and whether evaluation of the government's claim of secular purpose for the religious displays may take evolution into account under an Establishment Clause of the First Amendment analysis.
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), was a 5-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court that upheld an Ohio program that used school vouchers. The Court decided that the program did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment even if the vouchers could be used for private, religious schools.
Glassroth v. Moore, CV-01-T-1268-N, and its companion case Maddox and Howard v. Moore, CV-01-T-1269-N, 229 F. Supp. 2d 1290, affirmed, 335 F.3d 1282, concern then-Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore and a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama.
Patrick Errol Higginbotham is an American judge and lawyer who serves as a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court considered the constitutionality of two recurring Christmas and Hanukkah holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh. The first, a nativity scene (crèche), was placed on the grand staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse. The second of the holiday display in question was an 18-foot (5.5 m) public Hanukkah menorah, which was placed just outside the City-County Building next to the city's 45-foot (14 m) decorated Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty. The legality of the Christmas tree display was not considered in this case.
The Rehnquist Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1986 to 2005, when William Rehnquist served as Chief Justice of the United States. Rehnquist succeeded Warren Burger as Chief Justice after the latter's retirement, and Rehnquist served as Chief Justice until his death in 2005, at which point John Roberts was nominated and confirmed as Rehnquist's replacement. The Rehnquist Court is generally considered to be more conservative than the preceding Burger Court and Warren Court. According to Jeffrey Rosen, Rehnquist combined an amiable nature with great organizational skill, and he "led a Court that put the brakes on some of the excesses of the Earl Warren era while keeping pace with the sentiments of a majority of the country." Biographer John Jenkins argued that Rehnquist politicized the Supreme Court and moved the court and the country to the right. Through its rulings, the Rehnquist Court often promoted a policy of New Federalism in which more power was given to the states at the expense of the federal government. The Rehnquist Court was also notable for its stability, as the same nine justices served together from 1994 to 2005, the longest such stretch in Supreme Court history.
In Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a Kentucky statute was unconstitutional and in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacked a nonreligious, legislative purpose. The statute required the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall of each public classroom in the state. While the copies of the Ten Commandments were purchased with private funding, the Court ruled that because they were being placed in public classrooms they were in violation of the First Amendment.
Jerry Edwin Smith is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Texas Monthly v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1 (1989), was a case brought before the US Supreme Court in November 1988. The case was to test the legality of a Texas statute that exempted religious publications from paying state sales tax.
William Hubbs Rehnquist was an American jurist and lawyer who served on the Supreme Court of the United States for 33 years, first as an Associate Justice from 1972 to 1986 and then as Chief Justice from 1986 until his death in 2005. Considered a conservative, Rehnquist favored a conception of federalism that emphasized the Tenth Amendment's reservation of powers to the states. Under this view of federalism, the court, for the first time since the 1930s, struck down an act of Congress as exceeding its power under the Commerce Clause.
Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460 (2009), is a United States legal case relating to the Constitution's prohibition on a government establishment of religion specifically with respect to monuments on public land.
Capitol Square Review & Advisory Board v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753 (1995), is a United States Supreme Court case that focused on First Amendment rights and the Establishment Clause. Vincent Pinette, an active member of the Ku Klux Klan in Columbus, Ohio, wanted to place an unattended cross on the lawn of the Capitol Square during the 1993 Christmas season. Pinette and his fellow members of the KKK submitted their request. The advisory board originally denied this request. However, Pinette and the other members of the Ohio Chapter of the Klan fought this decision in the United States District Court of Southern Ohio. The court found in favor of the Klan and the Advisory Board issued the permit. The Board appealed to the United States Court of Appeals, which affirmed the decision of the district court. The board made one last petition to the Supreme Court where the decision was made, by a vote of seven to two, that the Klan was permitted to display the cross at the public forum.
Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, 2015 OK 54, 373 P.3d 1032, was a landmark case by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in which the Court found the placement of a Ten Commandments Monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol was unconstitutional.
The Ten Commandments Monument, authorized by the Oklahoma legislature and approved by the governor in 2009, was installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, in Oklahoma City, in 2012. The mere concept engendered years of political controversy, court suits based on religious freedom of religion issues, destruction in 2014 by a man who drove his car into it, replacement in the same location, and even attempts to remove Supreme Court justices who ruled in 2014 that the monument must be removed to another site. After Governor Mary Fallin, key legislators, and the justices agreed on a substitute site, the monument was removed from the capitol grounds in 2015.
The Ten Commandments Monument is installed on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, United States. The Texas Sunset Red Granite artwork was designed by an unknown artist and erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles of Texas in 1961. It was the subject of litigation in the Supreme Court case Van Orden v. Perry (2005).