July 01, 2021

On Thursday, June 17, 2021, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on Fulton v. Philadelphia in favor of Catholic Social Services (CSS). The case brought before the Court the question of whether the city of Philadelphia could condition the contract renewal with CSS on the grounds of the inclusion of new language in the contract that would bar the organization from discriminating against same-sex couples. Through his work as president of the Becket Fund, Catholic Law Professor Mark Rienzi acted as counsel for CSS.

Regarding his work on the case, Rienzi shared, “I've been working on the Fulton case with my colleagues at the Becket Fund since the case began in 2018. There are so many foster kids in need that it was very surprising when Philadelphia actually tried to close Catholic Social Services and exclude dedicated foster moms like Sharonell Fulton, Toni Simms-Bush, and Cecilia Paul from helping children. I am delighted that the entire Supreme Court recognized that Philadelphia's actions were wrong and illegal and that these foster care heroes can now help more children.”

In issuing the decision, Justice Alito—joined by Justices Gorsuch and Thomas—wrote a concurring opinion that relied on an article written by Rienzi in 2018. Co-authored with Stephanie Barclay, a professor at Notre Dame and the Director of Notre Dame's Religious Liberty Initiative, the article, “Constitutional Anomalies or As-Applied Challenges? A Defense of Religious Exemptions,” examines religious exemptions as “as-applied” challenges and not functioning out of step with constitutional jurisprudence.

Reflecting on Justice Alito’s use of the article and the importance of well-written scholarship more broadly, Rienzi noted, “I think the case shows how developments in legal scholarship can help inform the development of the law. Parties briefing a case have a very limited amount of space, and often judges want a deeper trove of information to think about a case. Good legal scholarship can help bridge that gap.”