San Francisco, CA – Two years after a three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments in two highly-charged First Amendment lawsuits, the court remains mum as to when it will reach decisions in the cases. Attorneys for the parties are mystified by the delay and have no idea how much more time will pass before the court makes a ruling.
On December 4, 2007, oral arguments were held in a packed courtroom at the Ninth Circuit in two lawsuits filed by well-known atheist Michael Newdow. One suit challenges the constitutionality of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and the other asks the court to order that the national motto, "In God We Trust," be stricken from U.S. currency. Written briefs were submitted to the court in the fall of 2007, prior to oral argument. Kevin Snider, Chief Counsel of Pacific Justice Institute, argued alongside attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice in defense of the national motto. He commented, "We thought twelve months ago that a decision was imminent, but obviously we were mistaken. It's a complete mystery to us why no decision has been made."
The U.S. Supreme Court begins its annual term in October and typically hands down all of its decisions by the end of the term in June. The California Supreme Court is required to issue decisions within 90 days after oral argument. However, no such rules require the Ninth Circuit to issue decisions at any particular time, leaving some litigants to wait indefinitely for a decision.
PJI President Brad Dacus noted, "We have been waiting so long on a decision in the national motto and Pledge of Allegiance cases that Michael Newdow has filed more lawsuits in the meantime - one attacking prayer at presidential inaugurations and the other attacking the longstanding tax exemption for ministers' housing allowances. PJI is actively involved in both of those cases as well, and we are committed to standing firm for our nation's religious and cultural heritage as long as it takes."