SCOTUS Passes On Soledad Cross, Gives Juvenile Offenders Hope
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Aired 6/26/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Guest: Dan Eaton, attorney, Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek
Mt. Soledad Cross: The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal on Monday to review whether the cross on top of Mt. Soledad is unconstitutional means the case will come back to a lower court.
Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the memorial structure, which now sits on federal land, would have to undergo significant changes to avoid being taken down altogether. Supporters of the cross appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.
Local attorney Dan Eaton said that means a San Diego federal judge would now have to look at the cross again and decide the remedy in light of the Ninth Circuit ruling.
Glenn Smith, professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego, has said that the memorial would have to change so that a visitor "would not feel like the dominant figure is a Christian symbol."
Litigation has surrounded the structure for more than 20 years. In 1989 the cross was on city land. Two Vietnam veterans sued to keep the city from displaying the 43-foot-tall cross. Congress passed a law in 2006 making the land the cross sits on federal land.
The Supreme Court may take up the case later, once remedies have been proposed by the lower court.
Juveniles and Life Without Parole: The Supreme Court also ruled Monday that state laws making it mandatory to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole were unconstitutional.
The five-to-four vote declared that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment to automatically send a juvenile to prison with no hope but to die there.
"A judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles," Justice Elena Kagan wrote.
Eaton said Kagan wants courts to look at juveniles individually to decide what the punishment should be, instead of implementing a mandatory life sentence.
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