Wednesday, April 25, 2007

En Banc 5th Circuit Finds TX Bible Monument Case Moot; But Injunction Retained

The dispute over the display of a Bible in a monument on the grounds of the Harris County (TX) court house is now moot. In an en banc decision in Staley v. Harris County, Texas, (5th Cir., April 24, 2007), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it would not reach the merits of the Establishment Clause challenge because, just days before oral argument in the case, the county placed the monument in storage to permit renovation of the court house grounds. However (over the dissent of 2 judges) the court left the district court judgment in place. The district court had found an Establishment Clause violation and had ordered the county to remove the monument. That determination had been upheld by a 3-judge panel of the 5th Circuit. The 5th Circuit's en banc opinion also decided that plaintiff was entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. According to today's Houston Chronicle, fees at the trial level were assessed at $40,000, and plaintiff's appellate fees have reached $200,000.

Three of the 16 judges on the en banc panel dissented arguing that the case should be remanded for fact finding on whether it could reasonably be expected that the county would reinstall the monument in the future.

Americans United, the group that had filed the lawsuit originally, issued a release applauding the court's decision to leave the injunction in place. Reporting on the decision, today's Houston Chronicle says that Harris County will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.