The federal Department of Justice took the surprising decision of siding with advocates of the Mount Soledad cross, arguing that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals should hear the case en banc, in front of a full 11-judge panel. A three-judge panel declared the cross unconstitutional in 2011, since it was erected on federal land and amounts to an endorsement of religion. A district court judge ordered the cross removed in December 2013.
The cross’s supporters, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, petitioned directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justice Department move, reports Mark Walker of the San Diego Union-Tribune, was aimed at keeping the case out of the Supreme Court–at least before moving through intermediary courts.
The original suit against the cross was brought in 2006 by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, who objected to its presence.