November 11, 1997 in City

Senate Approves Plan To Study Circuit Courts Panel Will Write Report On Possible Restructuring

New York Times
 

Congressional negotiators have scaled back a Senate plan to split the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, agreeing instead to study all the federal circuit courts.

With nearly 50 million people in its jurisdiction, the 9th circuit is the largest, and busiest, federal appeals court in the nation.

Its critics complain that people with business before the 28-judge court often face long delays and that the circuit court’s decisions are frequently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seeking to tackle these problems, conservative Republican senators unveiled a plan to split the circuit, isolating California and Nevada, plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, from the seven other Western states that now make up the circuit.

The full Senate approved that plan this summer. But California lawmakers, the White House and House leaders opposed the split, preferring a study of all of the existing 11 circuits and their workload. The House approved separate legislation this summer to study the matter.

In recent talks between the House and Senate, Senate negotiators backed off their plan for a split, agreeing instead to a study plan like that approved by the House.

The study will be done by a five-member commission appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The panel will have 10 months to study the courts and another two months to write a report on possible restructuring plans.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a staunch defender of the San Francisco-based appellate court, praised the compromise, calling it “a death knell for judicial gerrymandering.”

“The compromise is not only acceptable, it is desirable,” said Feinstein.

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who supported the plan to split the circuit, also tried to cast the compromise in a positive light. Gorton called the compromise “a huge step in the right direction.”

Gorton said he expects the commission’s findings to confirm “the unwieldy nature of the 9th circuit,” adding that Congress will likely consider the issue again next year.

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THE PLAN TO SPLIT

The Republican plan to split the 9th Circuit would isolate California and Nevada, plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, from the seven other Western states that now make up the circuit.

Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Hawaii and Alaska would comprise a newly created 12th Circuit to handle federal cases in those states.


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