Mark I. Pinsky is author of “A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.
For someone who has reached the pinnacle of the American legal system — if defending the president of the United States in his impeachment trial can be said to be the pinnacle — Jay Sekulow came perilously close to complete failure as a young lawyer.
Luck — or providence, as he sees it — intervened, putting Sekulow on a trajectory to the U.S. Senate floor this week.
In 1987, Sekulow was a partner in his own small Atlanta law firm when he stumbled into a morass of changing IRS regulations regarding some residential renovations he was handling for clients. As a result, he was sued, forcing his firm to collapse in bankruptcy.
Documents filed at the time with federal bankruptcy court said the firm had $13,071,748 in debts and $638,000 in assets.
Bereft and depressed, Sekulow was rescued not long after by an old friend: Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, the Messianic group that accepts Jesus as savior but retains traditional Jewish forms of worship.
At the age of 18, while a student at Atlanta Baptist College, now Mercer University, Sekulow had left the Jewish faith in which he was raised and had embraced Christianity, in part through the influence of Jews for Jesus.
Now 31, he accepted Rosen’s invitation to argue a Jews for Jesus appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite Sekulow’s complete lack of experience in constitutional law. What followed must have been the steepest imaginable learning curve.
The Los Angeles Airport authority had passed a regulation prohibiting groups such as Jews for Jesus from distributing literature in its terminal at LAX.
The same year his firm underwent bankruptcy, Sekulow argued the case before the Supreme Court, as the unpaid general counsel to Jews for Jesus. Rosen and three board members were in the courtroom for support when Sekulow stepped to the podium. The regulation was overturned 9-0, to great acclaim in the evangelical world, which felt in dire need of a legal champion. It was a high-profile, courtroom version of basketball’s slam-dunk.
To be sure, the LAX SCOTUS victory was laudable. However, it is also fair to say that the LAX regulation, and a number of such restrictive First Amendment statutes Sekulow helped overturn in the following years, was so broad and poorly drawn it would not have taxed the skills of a first-year law student.
By the time Sekulow argued the constitutional challenge, the airport’s ban on religious literature had already been overturned by every federal court on its way to the Supreme Court. No surprise there. The restriction read as if it had been designed to bait the justices: “The Central Terminal Area at Los Angeles International Airport is not open for First Amendment activities by any individual and/or entity.”
Nor were the professional reviews of Sekulow’s maiden appearance auspicious. American Lawyer magazine called him “rude and aggressive … so nervous that at times he appeared nearly out of control,” noting that he had the temerity to interrupt the justices when they questioned him, a breach of court protocol and a rookie error.
Yet on the strength of that win, and several others that followed (including one in 1992, which protected the rights of Hare Krishnas to distribute airport literature), Sekulow founded a public interest law firm defending the rights of believing Christians, called Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE.
Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service