[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday rejected [opinion, PDF] an attempt to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the presidential oath. The challenge was brought by atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive] and several other groups, who claimed the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. Newdow had unsuccessfully sought an injunction against use of the phrase and an inaugural prayer during the 2009 inauguration, and he also sought to block their inclusion in the 2013 and 2017 inaugural ceremonies. Rejecting the appeal, the court concluded, "plaintiffs' claims regarding the 2009 inaugural ceremony are moot and plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the 2013 and 2017 inaugurations." The court concluded:
The only apparent avenue of redress for plaintiffs' claimed injuries would be injunctive or declaratory relief against all possible President-elects and the President himself. But such relief is unavailable. Beyond the fact that plaintiffs fail to name future President-elects or the President in their suit, plaintiffs cannot sue all possible President-elects for the same reason they cannot sue all possible inaugural participants; as discussed, general injunctions are outside the judicial power. With regard to the President, courts do not have jurisdiction to enjoin him … and have never submitted the President to declaratory relief.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh concurred in the judgment and would have gone so far as to rule that the inclusion of the phrase and the inaugural prayer are constitutional.
In March, The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in another suit brought by Newdow that a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the constitution [JURIST report]. The Ninth Circuit also upheld the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency. Newdow originally sued to have the phrase "under God" removed from the pledge in 2000. The Ninth Circuit ruled in Newdow's favor in 2002, but the Supreme Court dismissed his case [JURIST report] in 2004 for lack of standing. Newdow also filed suit to ban the recitation of a prayer during the 2005 presidential inauguration, but that claim was rejected [JURIST reports].