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The Doctor is In

Michael A. Newdow, the California atheist who wants the words "under God" stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance, last week got permission to plead his case before the highest court in the land.

A medical doctor with a law degree but little courtroom experience, Dr. Newdow won a surprise victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, after representing himself in a challenge to the constitutionality of the patriotic oath recited in classrooms across the country.

After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in October to hear his appeal in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (Case No. 02-1624), Dr. Newdow asked to argue his case even though he was not eligible for admission to the Supreme Court bar.

Last week, the high court granted his motion, and rejected a request by the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State to use some of Dr. Newdow's time when the case is argued early next year.

Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United, said last week that his group expected Dr. Newdow to fare just fine before the court as long as he prepares. "He's going to have to know the case law inside and out, he'll have to be ready for lots of difficult hypothetical questions, and above all, he must at all times remain cool, calm, and collected," Mr. Boston said.

The appeal was brought by the Sacramento, Calif.-area school district where Mr. Newdow's daughter attends 4th grade. The high court has agreed to examine both whether he has standing to bring the case—an issue linked to his custody battle with his daughter's mother—and whether teacher-led recitations of the pledge in public schools violate the First Amendment's bar to government-established religion.

In an interview last week, Dr. Newdow voiced confidence that the law is on his side, and said he planned to prepare by participating in moot courts at law schools. In court papers, he cited his decades as an emergency- room doctor as good preparation for the pressures of a Supreme Court argument.

— Hendrie

Vol. 23, Issue 15, Page 22

Published in Print: December 10, 2003, as Federal File

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