SAN FRANCISCO – One of the federal appellate judges who declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional said Monday that the court was wrongly swayed by public criticism when it put the ruling on hold.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the court caved in to public pressure.
"It was a public relations gimmick. That would be a fair characterization of it," said Reinhardt, who was appointed by President Carter in 1980.
Last week's 2-1 ruling by the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the pledge violates the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state because it includes the phrase "under God." The decision was written by Judge Alfred Goodwin, who put it on hold a day later.
In an internal memo circulated to circuit judges, Reinhardt suggested the ruling was stayed at the request of Chief Judge Mary Schroeder, an allegation Goodwin denied. Schroeder declined to comment.
Reinhardt declined to elaborate on the memo, which was first detailed Monday in the legal publication Daily Journal.
In a phone interview, Goodwin said he blocked his ruling to ensure school districts would not immediately stop the practice of having children recite the pledge.
While he noted that the circuit's rulings automatically are blocked, or "stayed," for 45 days to give parties time to appeal, he said he wanted to clear up any confusion in the national furor that followed the decision.
"It was a bit of fire control. It's kind of a squirt of a little coolant on the fire until it calms down," said Goodwin, appointed to the bench in 1971 by President Nixon. "I didn't consider it caving in to pressure."
He said the court has been flooded with messages from school districts, in addition to "mindless telephone and e-mail traffic that was tying up the clerk's office and some of the other judges."
He said nobody pressured him to issue the order, which is allowed under court rules.
"It was completely my own initiative," Goodwin said.
The case was brought by a Sacramento atheist who said his second-grade daughter should not be subjected to the pledge at school.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, the state of California and the Elk Grove Unified School District have said they will ask the court to rehear the case.