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Listen: My Dad Got His Ass Handed to Him By Antonin Scalia

One of his cases made it all the way to the Supreme Court. But the decision wasn’t pretty

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.