Every couple of weeks, our MEL Stories podcast highlights a dude who’s had a specific moment or event in their lives that ended up being uniquely significant. In this episode, it was MEL contributor Edmond Guidry’s dad who had such a moment, which doubled as both his greatest accomplishment and his greatest failure: He argued before the Supreme Court — only to lose 9–0. Listen to Edmond make sense of the noble ass-kicking his dad took from Scalia et al. (as well as audio from the case) in the SoundCloud embed above and read an excerpt below.
I grew up in South Louisiana in a very small town. The population was probably 10,000 — if you count the entire parish (or what most call a county). My father was, and continues to be, a small-town lawyer. But on his office wall, there is a glass case that held two quill pens and a photograph of him on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. I knew he’d argued at the Supreme Court, but any time I asked him about it, he’d always brush it off by saying, “It was great; I lost 9–0.” To my embarrassment, I never pressed further.
A couple of months ago, though, I realized that I’d spent the last three or four years listening to pretty much every Supreme Court decision live — or nearly live — but that I still didn’t know much about my dad’s case.
So I called the Supreme Court. Shockingly, they were more responsive than the local DMV. The phone rang three times, and someone said, “Supreme Court.” I thought I would need to go through five or six robotic menus before speaking to a real, live human being. But a human picked up almost immediately. Almost as quickly, she gave me the email address of a guy at the National Archives, where audio of all SCOTUS cases prior to 2010 are kept. (My father’s was argued in November of 1988.) I emailed the guy, and within 30 minutes, I had a link to a site where the audio was available for streaming.
It was such a weird experience to hear my father asked questions from people like Antonin Scalia. It also was interesting to hear the Louisiana accent he had in the late 1980s — it was way more Kevin Costner in JFK than I ever expected. Weirder still, my dad was 32 back then. I’m now 31. To think that next year, I would be standing in front of John Roberts is terrifying. Thinking about it in those terms made me realize, Wait, he was just a kid.
He was representing the Sheriff’s Department of our parish — a case that he’d already lost decidedly and deserved to lose. What brought him to the high court was a technicality: Whether or not a contingency fee agreement (i.e., a percentage of rewards fee agreement between an attorney and client) protected defendants (such as the Sheriff’s Department) from having to pay for any additional “attorney’s fees” awarded by a later decision (such as the Federal Appeals Court).
Typically when people ask what the result of a Supreme Court case was, they’ll ask who wrote the opinion and who wrote the dissent. The opinion, which I believe was written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has a “concurrence” written by Scalia. It was such a bad beating that Scalia felt compelled to write, “I agree with this decision but for a different reason, and I want to tell you about my reason.”
As for my dad losing in such a historic manner, I mean, 9–0s happen. Hell, by 2014, the Obama administration had racked up 20 unanimous decisions against them. And my father always knew he had no case; it was more about enjoying the experience of getting up there and being tested by the best legal minds in the country.
Since listening to the hearing, I’ve thought a lot about what that challenge must have been like: Knowing that you’re going to lose, but still not wasting one moment of preparation, still giving it every atom of your being. I came to the conclusion there was great valiance in what he did. I also realized that my father was able to impart on me one of my life’s most important lessons, through a 28-year-old audio recording: Failure should never be allowed to beat you into submission.
Listen to Guidry’s story below, and for more MEL Radio, check us out on SoundCloud.