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The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that would transfer the Mount Soledad Cross to the federal government.

The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial Protection Act was introduced by San Diego’s Republican representatives – Darrell Issa, Brian Bilbray, and Duncan Hunter – in June and would transfer ownership of the cross and the city land it stands upon to the federal government.

The bill now goes to President Bush, who indicated his support for the legislation in a statement issued shortly after the House of Representatives passed it on July 19.

The cross has been at the center of a 17-year-long legal dispute and its location on public land has been ruled unconstitutional by federal and state judges several times.

Supporters of the legislation hope that transferring the cross to federal land will make their case more likely to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court – with its noticeably more conservative makeup. They argue that justices have historically been more lenient when considering the constitutionality of religious symbols on federal land rather than that owned by local governments.

Last month, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy postponed in a federal court order that would have imposed a $5,000 fine against the city for each day the cross remained on public land after Aug. 1. With the ultimatum lifted, the city is free to appeal prior decisions of state and federal courts.

Kennedy has also indicated that at least four justices would be willing to hear the case should those appeals fail.

Opponents of the legislation say that changing the ownership of the cross won’t make its presence on public land any more constitutional. They argue that federal and state courts have both ruled that the cross violates the state and federal constitutions respectively, and that the legislation is simply an attempt to delay its inevitable removal.

Last summer Proposition A, which also sought to transfer the cross to the federal government, passed with 76 percent of the vote in a special election. However, a state judge later ruled that the proposition was itself unconstitutional.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this post failed to note that the Senate vote was unanimous.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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