House Judiciary Panel Seeks to Forbid Federal Courts from Hearing Pledge Cases; ACLU Says Latest 'Court Stripping' Measure Follows Dangerous Trend

September 15, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the House Judiciary Committee approved a controversial court stripping measure, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers to reject this deeply misguided proposal. The legislation would strip jurisdiction from all federal courts in any First Amendment case involving the Pledge of Allegiance and is the latest of several similar court stripping measures.

“Schools across the country are back in session – maybe it’s time that some lawmakers went back for some basic lessons in American government,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “Our system of checks and balances demands an independent federal judiciary that ensures that laws passed by Congress are constitutional. If adopted, this measure would forever deny many Americans their day in court.”

The bill, H.R.2028, the “Pledge Protection Act of 2003,” would forbid all federal courts from reviewing cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance. The committee adopted it by a vote of 17 to 10 after accepting changes that would also forbid the Supreme Court from considering pledge cases.

“If the measure were to become law,” Schroeder added, “it would slam the federal court house doors on religious minorities, parents, schoolchildren and others who seek nothing more than to have their religious and free speech rights upheld before the courts charged under our Constitution with doing so.”

The ACLU noted that H.R.2028 is the latest in a series of court stripping measures to be proposed by Congress this year. Similar measures under consideration seek to block the ability of the courts to review cases considering the legal definition of marriage and the ability of courts to review the public display of the Ten Commandments.

Passage of any of these measures, the ACLU said, would establish a dangerous precedent for Congress to respond to court decisions with which they disagree. “Court stripping measures threaten the separation of powers — a fundamental aspect of our constitutional structure,” the ACLU’s Schroeder said. “The denial of access to the federal courts would force plaintiffs to raise federal claims and concerns in state courts, which may lack expertise and independent safeguards provided to federal judges under Article III of the Constitution.”

The ACLU also pointed to a report issued by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which said it found no “precedent for a law that would deny the inferior federal courts original jurisdiction or the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction to review the constitutionality of a law of Congress.”

“Stripping the federal courts of their ability to review laws violates the very notion of an independent judiciary,” Schroeder added. “Lawmakers should reject this fundamentally un-American measure.”

A coalition letter to members of the Committee urging opposition to H.R. 2028 is available at:

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