Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DC Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Challege To Inaugural Oath and Prayers

Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Newdow v. Roberts. The case challenges the addition of "So help me God" in the oath administered to President Obama, as well as prayers offered by clergy as part of the inaugural ceremony. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing. (See prior posting.) In yesterday's argument, according to Blog of the Legal Times, Michael Newdow argued that, as an atheist, he suffered stigmatic injury from the religious elements of the ceremony. He also argued that the claims are not moot since future inaugurals are also likely to use the "so help me God" phrase in the oath of office. The government argued that plaintiffs' claims are too generalized to grant standing. They largely watched the ceremony on television. Justice Department attorney Lowell Sturgill Jr. also argued that it is speculative as to whether future presidents-elect will want to use the "so help me God" phrase. Counsel for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, also a defendant, argued that the PIC, a non-governmental group, did not assist the clergy in the ceremony.

At the hearing, the DC Circuit opened with its usual cry: "God save the United States and this honorable court." Plaintiffs' emergency motion asking the court to eliminate the cry before arguments in this case was denied last week. (See prior posting.) In response, apparently Michael Newdow (and Bob Ritter of the American Humanists) absented themselves from the courtroom during the cry. (Comment by Bob Ritter.)