Soledad cross case back in court

The most recent legal skirmish in the 20-year battle over the constitutionality of the Mount Soledad Korean War Memorial cross began Wednesday in Pasadena as a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys on both sides.

The case is an appeal of a federal court decision in San Diego that allowed the cross to remain on its La Jolla mountaintop memorial site. It’s not clear when they will rule.

Plaintiff’s attorney James McElroy, representing Jewish War Veterans who are challenging the cross’s constitutionality, said he felt opening day went well.

“The three judges are very experienced in separation of church and state issue,” he said. “They asked very intelligent questions.”

Asked whether he was optimistic about the outcome, McElroy said, “The law is pretty clear. Every 9th Circuit decision involving a Latin cross on permanent land has come out the same way: We expect to prevail.”

Cross advocate Charles LiMandri, an attorney for the conservative Christian nonprofit Thomas More Law Center, agreed the 9th Circuit has shown a preference against the cross remaining in place, but disagreed on the case’s final outcome.

“I’m not confident they (the appeals court) will get it right,” he said. “But I’m very confident the U.S. Supreme Court will.”

Though the U.S. Supreme Court declined once before to hear the Soledad cross case, LiMandri said the situation is different now.

“The U.S. Supreme court declined to hear the case years ago because it was involved with the state constitution,” he said. “It’s a different situation now. It’s on federal land.”

In 2006, the war memorial cross site was transferred by Congress from the city of San Diego to the federal Department of Defense. It is now under the auspices of Commander, Navy Region Southwest in San Diego.a

McElroy concurred that the circumstances of the case have changed over the years, but claims the core legal issues on which it’s being decided remain the same.

“The real question is, is that cross primarily a religious symbol, or is it primarily a veterans memorial?,” he asked. “Obviously, it’s primarily a Christian symbol. If it’s a Christian symbol, its unconstitutional for it to be on government property.”