WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court June 30 declined to intervene in a long-running dispute over the Mount Soledad Cross war memorial located on federal land near San Diego.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the issue must go back through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before the high court can step in.

The Mount Soledad Memorial Association had urged the high court to intervene directly, claiming that in earlier rulings, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit has been "hostile" to the cross.

In June 2012 the high court similarly turned down the Mount Soledad Cross case in an appeal of a January 2011 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit that having the cross on public land violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The panel sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego, who had ruled in favor of the government in 2008.

The 43-foot concrete cross on Mount Soledad in the La Jolla section of San Diego has had a long legal history since its predecessor -- a much smaller, wooden cross -- was first placed there in 1913. It has been  rebuilt twice. The current structure was completed in the 1950s.

After federal courts in the 1990s ruled that the cross violated the state constitution's guarantee of separation of church and state, voters approved selling the cross and its surrounding park to a memorial association. That sale was voided by courts, and subsequent efforts to sell to a private organization or to donate it to the U.S. Department of the Interior also were overruled for various reasons.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law transferring the property to the Defense Department as a war memorial.

The cross's opponents, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, claim it is illegal to display a religious symbol on public land, because it is a violation of the separation of church and state.

Judges have several times ruled that the cross is illegal and had to be removed or sold to the highest bidder. Defenders of the cross explored several options for preserving the cross.