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Pledge heads for 'Roberts court?' Supreme Court should do its job, rule on 'under God' constitutionality

There's now a chance that a U.S. Supreme Court John G. Roberts Jr. presides over can do what the Rehnquist court couldn't: Rule definitively on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A new case moving back to Washington gives the court a second crack at a question raised in a waste-of-time case the first time around. The constitutional issue involves the phrase "under God" in public school recitations of the patriotic pledge. The nation's highest court has ruled repeatedly that historical references to the deity in official usage -- as, for example, the currency motto "In God We Trust" -- pass constitutional muster.

The problem is that the Rehnquist court didn't rule that the 1954 phrase addition to the pledge was constitutional, when the case was heard last year. It ducked the issue, ruling that complainant Michael Newdow, as a noncustodial parent, didn't have the standing to sue over his daughter's exposure to the pledge. That was bad news for the rights of noncustodial parents, but the court also abrogated its primary duty of settling a constitutional issue.

The return of this issue is predictable. Newdow sued again, through surrogates, and the San Francisco federal court simply bowed to the western regional higher level court -- whose earlier rulings are contradicted by an equal level court in Virginia -- and it will take the Supreme Court to finally settle this issue.

Roberts, now seemingly certain to win confirmation as the late William Rehnquist's successor as chief justice, has said during his Senate hearings that the Supreme Court could do a better job of bringing clarity to the law. His chance to prove that now looms.

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