You may download the entire argument and listen to it from a link at this page on the Court’s Website.
Mary Kostel began with the appellant’s argument, which urged that courts must always defer to a “hierarchical” church like ECUSA. She did not get far before Justice White interrupted her with a question: “Do we have to resolve that [ecclesiastical] question [of whether a diocese may leave the Church] before we can resolve who is entitled to this property?”
Ms. Kostel reiterated her view that courts may not resolve that question, because it is purely ecclesiastical in character. Justice White then asked her (echoing Judge Ortbal’s ruling) if it was not the case that there was no highest body in the Episcopal Church which had already ruled on whether a diocese may leave, so that there was no decision by the Church on that issue to which the civil courts would have to defer. Ms. Kostel claimed that to the contrary, there were two decisions before Quincy voted to leave in 2008 — decisions by “the highest body in ECUSA that had been assigned by the General Convention to make these decisions” — and she clarified that she meant by that the House of Bishops.
This point was typical of how Ms. Kostel’s argument picked on elements of the record with which civil judges could not be expected to be familiar. General Convention, of course, has never “assigned” to the House of Bishops the jurisdiction to decide whether or not a Diocese may leave the Church. Judge Ortbal’s minute and careful examination of the record had concluded that there was no judicatory body in ECUSA with any jurisdiction over that issue.