SAN DIEGO - Lawyers for the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association on Tuesday filed a petition to send a long-running court battle over the fate of a 43-foot cross in the hills above La Jolla directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The association is appealing a recent district court order to have the cross removed. The nation's high court refused to hear the case two years ago.
Judge Larry Burns issued his order in December in response to a 2011 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the memorial violates the First Amendment. The judge stayed his order until all appeals are exhausted.
"Due to the unique circumstances and the gravity of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial case, we wanted to give the Supreme Court an opportunity to take the case now if they choose -- since they will be deciding it eventually," said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute, which has taken up the association's cause.
"We are hopeful that, once and for all, the court will settle this question of the constitutionality of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, as the fate of hundreds of other similar veterans memorials hang in the balance," Shackelford said.
Association President and CEO Bruce Bailey said members of his organization were eager to see the case go before the high court.
Erected in 1954, the memorial is the nation's oldest Korean War Veterans Memorial, containing more than 3,300 plaques honoring the sacrifice and service of members of the armed forces.
The memorial association indicated after Burns' ruling that it would appeal the decision by Burns, who noted his disagreement with the appellate decision.
The cross has been the subject of legal challenges for the past 24 years. In 2006, the federal government, through an act of Congress, obtained the title to the cross and its surrounding property by eminent domain, and declared the cross to be a national war memorial.
The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and several local residents, all of whom were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties, filed suit that same year to get the cross taken down.
They contend the memorial should not have one predominant religious symbol.