Argument Before the Supreme Court 1925


The 1924-25 Supreme Court case Walter M. Pierce vs. The Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and Hill Military Academy (see left and below) resulted in the overturning of the Oregon School Law. J.P. Kavanaugh, an Oregon Judge and Knights of Columbus promoter, conducted the first challenge to the law in the Federal District Court in 1924. William Guthrie, a New York Lawyer and former teacher of Constitutional Law at Columbia University, directed the Supreme Court Challenge in 1925. The first three excerpts are from the oral argument of Mr. Willis S. Moore (attorney for the appellants, including Governor Pierce of Oregon) in which he described the nature and basic argument of the case. This is followed by a series of exchanges between Mr. Moore and Justice Sutherland on details of the Oregon School Law and its implications for the children who attended private schools. Also included are two excerpts from the oral argument of Mr. William Guthrie (attorney for the appellee, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary) on the nature of education and the role of the state in its regulation.



  • What are the main points of Moore's argument to the Supreme Court to uphold the Oregon School Law?
  • What are the main points of Guthrie's argument for the Supreme Court to overturn the Oregon School Law? Why do you think Guthrie did not build his case around the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion?
  • Do Mr. Moore and Mr. Guthrie present their arguments with a focus on religion in this case? Explain your answer.
  • Do Justice Sutherland's questions of Mr. Moore reveal anything about his attitude toward or opinion of the case? If so, what do they suggest?