On Heels of Travel Ban Hearing, GOP Lawmakers Push Bill to Split Up 9th ‘Circus’ Court*
By Chris White
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is well-known for handing down more liberal and left-leaning opinions than the other circuits that make up the United States appellate court system. As such, it has sort of been a thorn in the side of Republicans for years and now an effort is underway to divide up the 9th Circuit so that it holds less sway in the judicial system. This move comes at the heels of a controversial hearing before the Ninth Circuit regarding Trump’s travel ban. A panel of three judges will soon decide whether to uphold a temporary restraining order halting the order issued by a lower federal court in Seattle.
According to Fox News, Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, both from Arizona, have introduced a bill that would add a new 12th Circuit covering six states currently under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit. The plan would allow the 9th Circuit (based in San Francisco) to keep California, Oregon, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Meanwhile, the new 12th Circuit would take over Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Alaska.
The Court’s liberal reputation, as well as many of its major opinions getting struck down by the Supreme Court, has led to some conservatives referring to it as the “Nutty 9th” or the “9th Circus.” At least part of the reason for its left-leaning tendencies can be found in the fact 18 of the 25 active judges currently siting on the bench were appointed by Democratic presidents. Former President Barack Obama appointed 7 judges to the 9th Circuit during his 8-years in the Oval Office.
In a recent interview, Sen. Flake explained the reason for the legislation, saying the 9th Circuit now “represents 20% of the population — and 40% of the land mass is in that jurisdiction. It’s just too big. We have a bedrock principle of swift justice and if you live in Arizona or anywhere in the 9th Circuit, you just don’t have it.”
According to Flake, the average hand down time for an opinion in the 9th Circuit is now at 15 months — meaning an official decision on a case can be made over a year after the judges first heard oral argument.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have also reportedly introduced a similar bill, though it calls for leaving Washington state in the 9th Circuit.
The 9th Circuit has been a major issue for years, in large part because of the massive population shift since the Second World War. The Circuit was originally created by Congress back in 1891 when only 4% of the nation’s population lived in its jurisdiction. Over the next 125 or so years, things have changed quite a bit and as a result the Circuit is now approximately three times the average size of the other Circuits.
A Congressional Commission was created to examine the issue, and the entire appellate court system, nearly 20-years ago back in 1998, but it ultimately concluded the 9th Circuit should remain intact.
In case you’re wondering, there is precedent for Congress splitting a Circuit. Back in 1929, Congress divided up the 8th Circuit as a result of population changes and in an effort to relieve an overburdened Court.