U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear religious clash on Washington transit ads

By Lawrence Hurley

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a religious rights dispute brought by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington against the Washington area transit authority over its policy against allowing advertisements in its stations and on buses and trains on divisive issues including religion.

The conservative-majority court, which is usually receptive to religious rights claims, declined to review the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's 2015 policy that bars political, religious and advocacy advertisements in the transportation system that serves the U.S. capital region.

One of the nine justices, conservative Brett Kavanaugh, would not have been able to participate due to his prior service on a court that previously dealt with the case. That means the court could have turned out to be split 4-4 between its liberal and conservative justices, leaving the conservative majority unable to ensure a victory in the case.

"Because the full court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review," conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a statement regarding the court's action.

If Kavanaugh had participated "our intervention and a reversal would be warranted," Gorsuch added.

A federal judge in Washington declined to impose an injunction blocking the advertisement policy. The decision was upheld in 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled that the policy did not discriminate against religious entities.

Kavanaugh was recused because he was involved when the case was decided by the appeals court on which he served before President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2018. Kavanaugh did not actually participate in the lower court's ruling on the matter. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)