High Court Won't Hear Battle Over Mountaintop Cross Memorial - NBC4 Washington
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High Court Won't Hear Battle Over Mountaintop Cross Memorial

The 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad Cross overlooks Mission Bay and La Jolla



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    The U.S. Supreme Court will not review the decades-long legal dispute over the Mt. Soledad Cross, a 43-foot-tall cross erected on public land in San Diego in the 1950s that has since become a veterans memorial.

    On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the issue must go through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before the high court can step in.

    In December, a federal judge ordered the cross to come down, saying it violates the establishment clause of the Constitution by unlawfully endorsing one religion over others.

    The giant cross overlooking Mission Bay and La Jolla is visible from Interstate 5 and is a popular tourist destination.

    Opponents of the cross have argued that it is a religious symbol on government land and violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

    In a petition, however, the veterans group asked Supreme Court justices to step in and review the decision.

    In a statement, an attorney for the plaintiff, Steve Trunk, said his client was pleased with the decision.

    "We agree with the Supreme Court that the case should go through the regular appellate process before any decision is made by the Court whether or not it will hear the case," said attorney James McElroy.

    The cross was placed on public land in 1954. In 1992, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association purchased the land and in 2006, the memorial was officially transferred to the Department of Defense.  There are hundreds of plaques honoring veterans of all religions surrounding the base of the cross

    In 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross violated the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and it was sent back to federal court in San Diego, where the December ruling was issued.

    The lower court's ruling states the cross must be moved within 90 days.

    After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals makes its ruling, it's expected the case would again go to the Supreme Court, according to legal analyst Dan Eaton.

    "The Supreme Court is going to have to make the hard decision as to whether the site cross and all violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment or whether it is okay to keep that memorial site with the cross intact," Eaton said.

    He said we can expect the legal process to last another two to three years.