Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Seven Aphorisms" Case Argued In Supreme Court [UPDATED]

The Supreme Court this morning heard oral arguments in Pleasant Grove City, UT v. Summum (Docket No. 07-665), a case in which the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that members of the Summum faith are entitled to erect a "Seven Aphorisms" monument in a city park in which a 10 Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles is already displayed. (See prior posting.) Links to all the merit and amicus briefs filed in the case are available on Scotus Wiki. The parties in their briefs focus on whether the existing park monuments are government speech or private speech, and whether the Utah city park is a traditional public forum for unattended permanent displays. A release by Americans United on Monday, and an editorial in today's New York Times, reflect the view put forth in some of the amicus briefs that the Court should analyze the case under the Establishment Clause, instead of treating it as merely a speech case. An articles in yesterday's New York Times previews the case.

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, argued on behalf of Pleasant Grove City. Last month, one of the venues in which he rehearsed his argument was Liberty University School of Law (Liberty Champion). The Solicitor General's Office also presented oral argument in support of Pleasant Grove City. Deputy Solicitor General Daryl Joseffer opened his argument as follows:
Of course the Government can select the content and viewpoint of monuments on the National Mall and in other public parks across the country. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial did not open us up to a Viet Cong memorial. When the Martin Luther King Memorial is completed on the mall, it will not have to be offset by a monument to the man who shot Dr. King.
Washington attorney and law school professor Pamela Harris argued on behalf of Summum. Early in the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts asked Sekulow why the city had agreed to put up the 10 Commandments monument originally, though later Roberts also challenged Harris' arguments. The Washington Post, reporting on today's oral arguments, says: "Although the debate was spirited, it lacked some of the rancor of the last time the high court took up a dispute over the 10 Commandments."

The full transcript of oral arguments is available online.