Sep 15, 2011

The Superior Court of Richmond County embosses certain court documents with a seal, adopted in 1870, that consists of two tablets containing Roman numerals I-X, surrounded by the words "Superior Court Richmond County, GA." The plaintiffs claimed that use of the seal violated the Establishment Clause. The district court rejected the claim and, on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, in September 2002, we filed an amicus brief arguing that the content of the seal manifests a religious purpose, and that the seal’s use has the unconstitutional effect of linking government and religion. Oral argument was held on March 5, 2003, and on May 30, 2003, the panel upheld the seal, finding that it had the secular purpose of identifying legal documents. The court also found that the seal did not have a primarily religious effect because it is used in the very limited context of authenticating legal documents, so there is a tight nexus between the county’s purpose and the context of use; the Commandments are joined by a sword, the most recognizable symbol of the secular legal system; the seal is small and discrete, rather than in a position of prominence or special honor; and the depiction omits the text of the Commandments. The plaintiffs filed a motion for en banc review which was denied on August 6, 2003. The plaintiffs elected not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.