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House votes to strip federal judges of jurisdiction over Pledge cases

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted Wednesday to block federal judges from ruling [AJS backgrounder] on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance [JURIST news archive; Washington Post backgrounder], which contains the controversial phrase "under God." The Pledge Protection Act [HR 2389 text, PDF; summary] provides that "no court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance...." Social conservatives strongly support the bill because they say it protects the nation's religious heritage from unelected judges. Opponents, however, say the bill undermines the separation of powers and denies religious minorities access to federal courts. The bill would still allow state courts to decide whether the pledge is unconstitutional within their jurisdictions.

The legislation, which passed 260-167 [roll call], stems from a 2002 ruling [opinion text, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], which held that the pledge is unconstitutional [Duke Law backgrounder] when recited in public schools because the phrase "under God" violates the Establishment Clause [overview] of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, however, reversed that decision [JURIST report] in 2004 because atheist plaintiff Michael Newdow [advocacy website] did not have standing to sue. It is unclear whether the US Senate [official website] will take up the matter in the current session. AP has more. Bloomberg News has additional coverage.

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