With the Supreme Court evenly split between judicial liberals and conservatives (with Justice Kennedy falling somewhere in between), court watchers usually find something to be disappointed or delighted with in each new ruling, depending on their own political bent. Today’s ruling on Salazar v. Buono will leave most simply confused.
A quick summary of the case is this – in 1934 the VFW erected a large cross on ‘Sunrise Rock’ near San Bernadino, CA. In 1994, the area was designated the Mojave National Preserve, making it a Federal land.
In 2001, Frank Buono, a former National Park Service employee sued the Federal Government to have them remove the memorial based on it’s supposed violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. While that was pending in court, Congress designated the cross a national memorial. Seven months later the court ruled the cross could not be displayed on Federal lands. Three months after that Congress passed a provision that Federal funds couldn’t be used to dismantle the cross. Nearly a year later Congress moved to transfer the land to the Veterans Home of California to maintain the Cross memorial.
The Ninth Circuit court of appeals affirmed the earlier court ruling, and then sought to bar the transfer of the land. The next appeal landed it on the Supreme Courts docket.
Clear enough? It gets worse.
In their decision today the court ruled the lower court had erred in barring the land transfer, and remanded the case back to the lower court for reconsideration based on the Higher Court’s stipulations. Of course, that was the opinion of two of the justices – a third concurring justice didn’t think the transfer should be held up at all. Two of the conservative justices didn’t think Buono had standing to bring the case to begin with, and the other four liberal dissenters said the lower court ruling should stand.
Which I think puts us back at square one – in the meantime the cross stands there in the desert, not harming anyone.