Judge in Pledge Ruling Raps Decision to Delay
Published on Tuesday, July 2, 2002 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Judge in Pledge Ruling Raps Decision to Delay
He Tells Legal Paper Court Lacks 'Courage of Its Convictions'
by Bob Egelko

A judge who voted to make the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional in a ruling last week has criticized his court's legally inconsequential decision to put the ruling on hold.

The 2-1 ruling last Wednesday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declared the pledge unconstitutional in classrooms as a government endorsement of religion, because of its reference to "one nation under God." On Thursday, Judge Alfred Goodwin, author of the opinion, issued a stay that prevents the ruling from taking effect until the court disposes of all appeals.

Under court rules, however, the ruling would not have become binding for at least 52 days and would have been stayed indefinitely as soon as an appeal was filed.

The federal and state governments and a school district are currently preparing appeals to the ruling.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who joined Goodwin in the majority decision, said Monday that he had written an internal memo taking the court to task for the stay.

The memo, quoted in the Daily Journal legal newspaper, said the court lacked "the courage of its convictions" and was merely trying to pacify politicians and the public. "I am embarrassed for myself and our court," Reinhardt wrote.

Reached at his chambers in Los Angeles, he said he would not comment publicly on the stay, but he would not dispute a reporter's characterization of it as "a gesture without legal meaning."

"When a court issues an order, it's supposed to do something," Reinhardt said.

Goodwin did not return The Chronicle's phone calls Monday, but was quoted by the Recorder, another legal newspaper, as saying the stay was simply "damage control" largely for the benefit of news organizations that don't understand court rules.

"Their attention span can't handle anything more than a haiku of about four lines," said the 79-year-old judge, a former newspaper reporter who was appointed to the court by President Richard Nixon in 1971. "The worst thing about it was that some people said we were caving under pressure."

Goodwin was no more complimentary about politicians in general, and President Bush in particular, who have taken turns beating up on the ruling and the court that issued it.

"I never had much confidence in the attention span of elected officials for any kind of deep thinking about important issues," the judge told the Recorder.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle