Legal battle continues for Mt. Soldedad cross

SAN DIEGO — The debate over the Mount Soledad cross, which stands on public land, was back in federal court in San Diego on Thursday.

It was a month ago when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review an appeal of a court ruling that the cross in La Jolla is unconstitutional, thereby returning the case to the local level for further proceedings.

Judge Larry Burns on Thursday set future dates and scheduled a hearing for Oct. 19, when he will decide if the Mount Soledad Memorial Association will be considered a party to the lawsuit, which now pits the U.S. government against the American Civil Liberties Union.

Attorneys for the association, which maintains the site as a war memorial, and a lawyer representing Republican Reps. Brian Bilbray of San Diego and Duncan Hunter of Alpine, said they were concerned that “secret settlement negotiations” had begun between the U.S. Justice Department and the ACLU and they had not been notified.

Such settlement talks, however, were apparently greatly exaggerated.

“We've just talked about sitting down to talk,” attorney James McElroy, who is assisting the ACLU in the litigation, told Burns.

Burns said he was inclined to grant a motion to include the association as a party, noting that if any sort of settlement was ever reached it would be necessary to have the group's approval or it would cause further legal trouble. The litigation over the cross has been going on for more than two decades.

The judge set a briefing schedule for the attorneys to argue their points and delayed any sort of ruling until the hearing in October.

In January 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the cross sent a message of government endorsement of religion and therefore violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But the court left open the possibility of finding other legal alternatives that would not necessarily mean the cross, which is on federal land, would have to be removed.

What those alternatives might be, with one side wanting it removed and the other opposing that, are unclear.


Categories: KUSI