ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. NEWDOW

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
02-1624
Petitioner 
Elk Grove Unified School District and David W. Gordon, Superintendent
Respondent 
Michael A. Newdow, et al.
Opinion 
Advocates
(argued the cause for Petitioners)
(argued the cause pro se)
(argued the cause for Respondent United States, in support of petitioners)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Michael Newdow's daughter attended public school in the Elk Grove Unified School District in California. Elk Grove teachers began school days by leading students in a voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words "under God" added by a 1954 Congressional act. Newdow sued in federal district court in California, arguing that making students listen - even if they choose not to participate - to the words "under God" violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The district court dismissed Newdow's complaint for lack of standing, because he and the mother of his daughter are divorced and he does not have custody. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Newdow did have standing "to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct the religious education of his daughter." The Ninth Circuit ruled that Congress's 1954 act adding the words "under God" to the Pledge and the school district policy requiring it be recited both violated the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Question 

Does Michael Newdow have standing to challenge as unconstitutional a public school district policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? Does a public school district policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the words "under God," violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Elk Grove Unified School District, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

In an opinion authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court found that Newdow did not have standing to bring suit because he did not have sufficient custody over his daughter. "When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law," Justice Stevens wrote. Because it found that Newdow did not have standing, the Court failed to reach the constitutional question. Chief Justice Renquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas all wrote seperate concurrences, saying that requiring teachers to lead the Pledge is constitutional.

Cite this Page
ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. NEWDOW. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_02_1624>.
ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. NEWDOW, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_02_1624 (last visited September 29, 2014).
"ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. NEWDOW," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 29, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_02_1624.