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Democrats opposed to 9th split

Erica Werner Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Democratic senators representing the nine Western states that make up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signed a letter Thursday opposing a House GOP plan to break the circuit in two.

The letter was sent to GOP Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who will have a lead role in finalizing a budget-cutting bill that House Republicans hope will include a provision splitting the 9th Circuit. The bill is expected to come to a vote next week.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee is working diligently to address the questions regarding the functioning of the 9th Circuit. … We believe that it is essential that the Judiciary Committee be allowed to fulfill its duty,” said the letter released by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a Judiciary Committee member.

Proponents of the split – including the Bush administration – argue that the circuit, which covers about 54 million people, is too big to be effective.

Opponents allege political motives by Republicans annoyed by the court’s rulings, including a 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

The House legislation would create a 9th Circuit covering California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and a new 12th Circuit covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Arizona.

The House-passed version of the budget bill included the 9th Circuit split, while the Senate version did not. Gregg will lead House and Senate negotiators in crafting a compromise bill in coming days.

The nine Democrats who signed the letter threatened to block the circuit split measure if it makes it to the Senate floor by raising a procedural objection against non-budgetary measures being included in budget bills.

Signing the letter along with Feinstein were Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Max Baucus of Montana, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, Harry Reid of Nevada and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

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