Novice Lawyer and Atheist Gets Point Across; Impresses Supreme Court in Pledge Case
The Honolulu Advertiser
The California father who put the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance in the national spotlight brought passion and feistiness to the austere Supreme Court. Michael Newdow, arguing his own case at the high court on Wednesday, made no rookie mistakes. He threaded his arguments with legal and human elements, winning praise all around. Justices gave the 50-year-old Newdow special permission to argue the case because he has not had his law license long enough to qualify. He sparred with several court members, and after 30 minutes seemed to have won their respect. "I think he surprised a lot of people. He was superb," said Kenneth Starr, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer who opposes Newdow's position.
As an atheist, Newdow said, hearing the phrase one nation under God is like "getting slapped in the face." Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist sought to clip Newdow's argument that the words "under God" are divisive, noting that Congress unanimously added the phrase in 1954. Newdow was ready with a quick response. "That's only because no atheists can be elected to office," Newdow said to laughter, then scattered applause in the courtroom. He cited state bans, which are not enforced, against atheists winning elections.
As he left the court, toting a raspberry-colored canvas backpack, supporters greeted him as if he were a rock star. A woman yelled from behind a barricade, "We love you."