Last week, a per curium panel (Newsom, Hull and visiting district judge Royal) of the 11th Circuit addressed an appeal by the City of Pensacola of “a district court decision ordering it to remove a 34-foot Latin cross from a public park on the ground that the City’s maintenance of the cross violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.” It affirmed “conclud[ing] that [it was] bound by existing Circuit precedent.”
Fine and dandy.
But Judge Newsom didn’t like being so bound. He concurred and had lots to say. He’s a great writer, so agree or disagree, you’ll enjoy the read, where he explains that “[t]he Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is, to use a technical legal term of art, a hot mess.” He urges en banc review: “Given the inconsistency—er, uncertainty—in the Supreme Court’s own Establishment Clause precedent, I would leave it to the en banc Court to chart the next move for this Circuit.”
How about this passage:
So where does all that leave us? As I’ve already confessed, I don’t pretend to know—as I’m sitting here—exactly how the questions surrounding the constitutionality of the Bayview Park cross should be analyzed or resolved. Here, though, is what I do know:
1. That the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is a wreck;
2. That as a lower court, we are nonetheless obliged to do our best to discern and apply it;
3.That in the last decade, the Supreme Court has increasingly emphasized the centrality of history and tradition to proper Establishment Clause analysis, culminating in its statement in Greece that “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted ‘by reference to historical practices and understandings.’” 134 S. Ct. at 1819 (quoting Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 670 (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part));
4. That there is a robust history—dating back more than a century, to before the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, by which the First Amendment would eventually be applied to state and local governments—of cities, states, and even the federal government erecting and maintaining cross monuments on public land; and
5. That our now-35-year-old decision in Rabun—which invalidated a cross situated in a state park and, in so doing, summarily dismissed “historical acceptance” as a reliable guide for Establishment Clause cases—is irreconcilable with intervening Supreme Court precedent.