Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, No. 02-1624.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtStevens
Citation542 U.S. 1
PartiesELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL. <I>v.</I> NEWDOW ET AL.
Docket NumberNo. 02-1624.
Decision Date14 June 2004
542 U.S. 1
ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL.
v.
NEWDOW ET AL.
No. 02-1624.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued March 24, 2004.
Decided June 14, 2004.

Petitioner school district requires each elementary school class to recite daily the Pledge of Allegiance. Respondent Newdow's daughter participates in this exercise. Newdow, an atheist, filed suit alleging that, because the Pledge contains the words "under God," it constitutes religious indoctrination of his child in violation of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. He also alleged that he had standing to sue on his own behalf and on behalf of his daughter as "next friend." The Magistrate Judge concluded that the Pledge is constitutional, and the District Court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Newdow has standing as a parent to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct his daughter's religious education, and that the school district's policy violates the Establishment Clause. Sandra Banning, the child's mother, then filed a motion to intervene or dismiss, declaring, inter alia, that she had exclusive legal custody under a state-court order and that, as her daughter's sole legal custodian, she felt it was not in the child's interest to be a party to Newdow's suit. Concluding that Banning's sole legal custody did not deprive Newdow, as a noncustodial parent, of Article III standing to object to unconstitutional government action affecting his child, the Ninth Circuit held that, under California law, Newdow retains the right to expose his child to his particular religious views even if they contradict

[542 U.S. 2]

her mother's, as well as the right to seek redress for an alleged injury to his own parental interests.

Held: Because California law deprives Newdow of the right to sue as next friend, he lacks prudential standing to challenge the school district's policy in federal court. The standing requirement derives from the constitutional and prudential limits to the powers of an unelected, unrepresentative judiciary. E. g., Allen v. Wright, 468 U. S. 737, 750. The Court's prudential standing jurisprudence encompasses, inter alia, "the general prohibition on a litigant's raising another person's legal rights," e. g., id., at 751, and the Court generally declines to intervene in domestic relations, a traditional subject of state law, e. g., In re Burrus, 136 U. S. 586, 593-594. The extent of the standing problem raised by the domestic relations issues in this case was not apparent until Banning filed her motion to intervene or dismiss, declaring that the family court order gave her "sole legal custody" and authorized her to "exercise legal control" over her daughter, Newdow's argument that he nevertheless retains an unrestricted right to inculcate in his daughter his beliefs fails because his rights cannot be viewed in isolation. This case also concerns Banning's rights under the custody orders and, most important, their daughter's interests upon finding herself at the center of a highly public debate. Newdow's standing derives entirely from his relationship with his daughter, but he lacks the right to litigate as her next friend. Their interests are not parallel and, indeed, are potentially in conflict. Newdow's parental status is defined by state law, and this Court customarily defers to the state-law interpretations of the regional federal court, see Bishop v. Wood, 426 U. S. 341, 346-347. Here, the Ninth Circuit relied on intermediate state appellate cases recognizing the right of each parent, whether custodial or noncustodial, to impart to the child his or her religious perspective. Nothing that either Banning or the school board has done, however, impairs Newdow's right to instruct his daughter in his religious views. Instead, he requests the more ambitious relief of forestalling his daughter's exposure to religious ideas endorsed by her mother, who wields a form of veto power, and to use his parental status to challenge the influences to which his daughter may be exposed in school when he and Banning disagree. The California cases simply do not stand for the proposition that Newdow has a right to reach outside the private parent-child sphere to dictate to others what they may and may not say to his child respecting religion. A next friend surely could exercise such a right, but the family court's order has deprived Newdow of that status. Pp. 11-18.

328 F. 3d 466, reversed.

[542 U.S. 3]

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined as to Part I. post, p. 18. O'CONNOR, J., post, p. 33, and THOMAS, J., post, p. 45, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. SCALIA, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Terence J. Cassidy argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Michael W. Pott.

Solicitor General Olson argued the cause for the United States as respondent under this Court's Rule 12.6 in support of petitioners. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Solicitor General Clement, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katsas, Patricia A. Millett, Robert M. Loeb, Lowell V. Sturgill, and Sushma Soni.

Michael A. Newdow, pro se, argued the cause and filed a brief as respondent.*

[542 U.S. 4]

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.


Each day elementary school teachers in the Elk Grove Unified School District (School District) lead their classes in

542 U.S. 5

a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Respondent, Michael A. Newdow, is an atheist whose daughter participates in that daily exercise. Because the Pledge contains the words "under God," he views the School District's policy as a religious indoctrination of his child that violates the First Amendment. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Newdow. In light of the obvious importance of that decision, we granted certiorari to review the First Amendment issue and, preliminarily, the question whether Newdow has standing to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts. We conclude that Newdow lacks standing and therefore reverse the Court of Appeals' decision.

542 U.S. 6
I

"The very purpose of a national flag is to serve as a symbol of our country," Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 405 (1989), and of its proud traditions "of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations," id., at 437 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). As its history illustrates, the Pledge of Allegiance evolved as a common public acknowledgment of the ideals that our flag symbolizes. Its recitation is a patriotic exercise designed to foster national unity and pride in those principles.

The Pledge of Allegiance was initially conceived more than a century ago. As part of the nationwide interest in commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, a widely circulated national magazine for youth proposed in 1892 that pupils recite the following affirmation: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."1 In the 1920's, the National Flag Conferences replaced the phrase "my Flag" with "the flag of the United States of America."

In 1942, in the midst of World War II, Congress adopted, and the President signed, a Joint Resolution codifying a detailed set of "rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America." Ch. 435, 56 Stat. 377. Section 7 of this codification provided in full:

"That the pledge of allegiance to the flag, `I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all', be rendered by

542 U.S. 7

standing with the right hand over the heart; extending the right hand, palm upward, toward the flag at the words `to the flag' and holding this position until the end, when the hand drops to the side. However, civilians will always show full respect to the flag when the pledge is given by merely standing at attention, men removing the headdress. Persons in uniform shall render the military salute." Id., at 380.

This resolution, which marked the first appearance of the Pledge of Allegiance in positive law, confirmed the importance of the flag as a symbol of our Nation's indivisibility and commitment to the concept of liberty.

Congress revisited the Pledge of Allegiance 12 years later when it amended the text to add the words "under God." Act of June 14, 1954, ch. 297, 68 Stat. 249. The House Report that accompanied the legislation observed that, "[f]rom the time of our earliest history our peoples and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God." H. R. Rep. No. 1693, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., p. 2 (1954). The resulting text is the Pledge as we know it today: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." 4 U. S. C. § 4.

II

Under California law, "every public elementary school" must begin each day with "appropriate patriotic exercises." Cal. Educ. Code Ann. § 52720 (West 1989). The statute provides that "[t]he giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy" this requirement. Ibid. The Elk Grove Unified School District has implemented the state law by requiring that "[e]ach elementary school class recite the pledge of allegiance to the

542 U.S. 8

flag once each day."2 Consistent with our case law, the School...

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1078 practice notes
  • Zazzali v. Hirschler Fleischer, P.C., C.A. No. 11–614–LPS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • August 21, 2012
    ...In addition to establishing Article III standing, a party must establish “prudential standing.” See Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11–12, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004); Twp. of Lyndhurst v. Priceline.com Inc., 657 F.3d 148, 154 (3d Cir.2011). Prudential standing......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 22, 2015
    ...the function of Congress and the Chief Executive[,]” not the judiciary (emphasis in original)); cf.Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow,542 U.S. 1, 11, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004)(discussing, in the prudential standing context, “ ‘the general prohibition on a litigant's raising ......
  • Williams v. Berry, Civil Action No. 3:13CV38TSL–JMR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • July 19, 2013
    ...[977 F.Supp.2d 629]‘judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction [.]’ ” Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004). “Constitutional standing requires that the plaintiff personally suffered some actual or threatened......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 28, 2013
    ...of text omitted); see also Common Cause v. Pennsylvania, 558 F.3d 249, 258 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004); Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Am. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 474-75 (1982)); Enterline v. Poco......
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1054 cases
  • Zazzali v. Hirschler Fleischer, P.C., C.A. No. 11–614–LPS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • August 21, 2012
    ...In addition to establishing Article III standing, a party must establish “prudential standing.” See Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11–12, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004); Twp. of Lyndhurst v. Priceline.com Inc., 657 F.3d 148, 154 (3d Cir.2011). Prudential standing......
  • Brewer v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11–cv–1206 KBJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 22, 2015
    ...the function of Congress and the Chief Executive[,]” not the judiciary (emphasis in original)); cf.Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow,542 U.S. 1, 11, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004)(discussing, in the prudential standing context, “ ‘the general prohibition on a litigant's raising ......
  • Williams v. Berry, Civil Action No. 3:13CV38TSL–JMR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • July 19, 2013
    ...[977 F.Supp.2d 629]‘judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction [.]’ ” Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004). “Constitutional standing requires that the plaintiff personally suffered some actual or threatened......
  • Jurista v. Amerinox Processing, Inc., Civ. No.12-3825 (NLH/JS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • March 28, 2013
    ...of text omitted); see also Common Cause v. Pennsylvania, 558 F.3d 249, 258 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004); Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Am. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 474-75 (1982)); Enterline v. Poco......
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  • Developments in Standing for Public Lands and Natural Resources Litigation
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 48-12, December 2018
    • December 1, 2018
    ...1162, 1170 (10th Cir. 2011) (en banc). 155. Id . at 1171. 156. Lexmark , 572 U.S. at 127 n.3. See Elk Grove Uniied Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11-12 (2004), abrogated by Lexmark , 572 U.S. 118 (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984)) (enumerating the prudential standing bra......
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    ...Lemon conflict). (54.) See Marsh, 463 U.S. at 790 (explicating standard's application); see, e.g., Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 35-36 (2004) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (suggestingMarsh special due to long history of legislative prayer), abrogated by Lexmark Int'l, Inc......
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    ...140 S. Ct. at 2119. (19.) See Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U.S. 125, 134 (2004). (20.) See, e.g., Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1 (21.) See Richard H. Fallon, Jr., The Fragmentation of Standing, 93 TEX. L. RHV. 1061, 1064 (2015) (urging scholars of standing to "attempt to iden......
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