As a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Thomas Nelson works as hard as he did when he was a Twin Falls attorney, but there was a big distinction back then.
“The difference was I could always unload myself by not taking a case, and here, I don’t have that choice,” he said.
As the paperwork continues piling up for the judges, Congress is again debating whether to break up the nation’s largest appellate court and put California in a circuit apart from most other Western states.
A Senate panel Tuesday approved such a measure, citing work overloads and long backups in court decisions.
Nelson, who worked in the Twin Falls area for 22 years, rejects the idea regional politics shape its decisions.
He points to an Alaska ruling against the U.S. Forest Service for an invalid timber sale, a decision that would seem “environmentalleaning” but for the fact it was decided by judges from traditionally conservative states of Idaho, Montana and Washington.
Philosophical and political leanings had nothing to do with the outcome, which was based on merits alone, he said.
“Philosophically I don’t think that carries the day,” Nelson said. “If that’s the justification, it probably ought to fail.”
There have been attempts to break up the circuit court for two decades. It covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The 9th Circuit Court would be split in two: the 9th Circuit and a 12th Circuit.
California would be left in the 9th Circuit, along with Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Nevada and Hawaii could choose either circuit, and the rest of the West would be in the 12th Circuit.
Nelson said he likes the idea of splitting the circuit because of the growing caseload. Nine of the 28 judgeships in the circuit are vacant.
“My personal view is that the change would be welcome,” Nelson said. “The 9th Circuit as presently constituted is very large and it becomes unwieldy at times. If it were clumsy and hard to handle now, think how we’d be with 10 or nine more judges.”
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