Modrovich v. Allegheny County

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
March 2001
Status: 

In March 2001, AU filed suit challenging the display of a plaque containing a traditional, sectarian version of the Ten Commandments on the facade of the county courthouse in Pittsburgh. Discovery was conducted during the remainder of 2001, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in January 2002. In April 2002, the court informed the parties that it would refrain from ruling on the pending motions until the Third Circuit issued a decision in Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia v. Chester County, which involved a similar plaque affixed to a courthouse in another Pennsylvania county. AU filed an amicus brief in that case but on June 26, 2003, the Third Circuit upheld the Chester County plaque. On July 15, 2003, we filed a supplemental brief arguing that the Chester County decision does not resolve this case because the Allegheny County plaque is more prominently displayed than the Chester County plaque, has been explicitly endorsed by Allegheny County officials, and lacks historical value. On July 28, 2003, the district court granted summary judgment to the other side, relying largely on the Chester County decision. We appealed to the Third Circuit. Senior Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser presented oral argument to a panel of the Third Circuit in March 2004. On October 6, 2004, however, the Third Circuit upheld the display, reasoning that its age rendered it a historic relic. The court extended the deadline for the filing of a petition for rehearing until after the Supreme Court decided the McCreary and Van Orden cases, but we opted not to seek rehearing.

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