NEW YORK – When the Pledge of Allegiance was deemed unconstitutional by a federal court of appeals, few legal observers were surprised to learn that it came from the Ninth Circuit.
Considered the nation's most liberal and oft-reversed federal court, its decisions have been struck down by the Supreme Court five times this year alone. The federal appeals court's rulings have so angered some that a number of congressmen once tried to abolish it.
The disputed Pledge of Allegiance decision was written by Judge Alfred Goodwin, a 79-year-old appointed by President Nixon. He was joined by a Carter appointee, with the dissenting vote coming from a judge appointed by the first President Bush.
The court is the largest federal circuit in the nation, stretching from Guam to Arizona. Fourteen of its 28 judges were appointed by President Clinton. They include Clinton’s Oxford roommate and a classmate from Yale.
The Ninth Circuit has issued a bevy of controversial decisions over the years, including allowing some religious groups to smoke pot on federal lands, prohibiting authorities from searching gas tanks at the U.S.-Mexico border and declaring that the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, only applies to states, not individuals.
The court once said a Washington state city violated the rights of artists when nude ceramic prints and a bronze sculpture of a woman's rear end were banned from city hall. It has also stated that tenants in public housing projects can be kicked out if other family members or even guests have drugs.
A few years ago it declared assisted suicide a constitutional right.
And one member ruled that cross-dressers may constitute a persecuted class of people, making them eligible for asylum in the United States.
Among the more memorable of the laws later overturned on appeal:
In September 1999, a three-judge panel of the court said "medical necessity" justified the smoking of marijuana.
In May 2000, the court said a job applicant can’t be rejected because his health problems would be worsened by working at the place he’s applying.
In July 2000, it ruled that a company could run an adult bookstore and peepshow in the same building, and that the city of Los Angeles had violated its First Amendment rights by trying to shut it down.
And in other cases, the court reversed its own decisions:
In March 2001, a three-judge panel ruled that Web sites declaring abortion doctors "baby butchers" were protected by free speech. It reversed the decision in May.
In June 2001, the court ruled that an FBI sharpshooter at the Ruby Ridge standoff could be tried for manslaughter, reversing an earlier decision saying he couldn’t.
Fox News correspondent Eric Shawn contributed to this report.