Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case brief

Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case brief summary
542 U.S. 1 (2004)

Respondent father sued petitioners, including a school district, alleging that the school district's policy requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (Pledge) at his daughter's school violated the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the father had standing and ruled in favor of the father. Certiorari was granted to review the standing and First Amendment issues.

The father, an atheist, contended that the words "under God" in the Pledge violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment and that the school district's recitation policy was unconstitutional. Pursuant to a state-court order, the child's father and mother had joint legal custody and the father had the right to consult on issues relating to the child's education, but the mother endorsed the religious ideas and possessed what amounted to a tie-breaking vote. The state court also enjoined the father from suing as his daughter's "next friend."


  • The United States Supreme Court determined that the noncustodial father lacked prudential standing to bring the suit in federal court. 
  • It was improper for the federal courts to entertain the claim of the father whose standing to sue was founded on family law rights that were in dispute, when prosecution of the lawsuit could have had an adverse effect on the person who was the source of the father's claimed standing. 
  • Also, nothing that either the mother or the school district had done impaired the father's right to instruct his daughter in his religious views.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court.

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