Heading up the panel hearing the case will be Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal, who in that same position authored the Court’s unanimous 2009 opinion in the case of All Saints Waccamaw v. Episcopal Church, which I quoted and analyzed in this earlier post. Also serving on the panel will be Associate Justice Donald W. Beatty, who joined in the Waccamaw opinion. It is not known yet whether any of the other sitting Justices have recused themselves (two of them did so in the Waccamaw case); the fifth, Justice Kaye Hearn, assumed her seat on the Court after the arguments in the 2009 case.
Chief Justice Toal, whose religion is Roman Catholic, is no stranger to the concept of what makes a church “hierarchical.” In her opinion in the Waccamaw case, Justice Toal noted that South Carolina Courts are required to resolve church property disputes using “neutral principles of law” whenever possible. They may defer only to “the highest religious judicatories” when they have properly decided an issue “as to religious law, principle, doctrine, discipline, custom, and administration.” It should be noted that in her written opinion filed last January, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein expressly found that there were no such bodies in the Episcopal Church (USA) that had outside jurisdiction over either the Diocese or any of its parishes.