Saturday, October 9, 2004

House seeks to split up
9th Circuit’s territory

WASHINGTON » The Republican-led House has voted to break up the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, an action opponents said was motivated by conservatives' ire over some of the court's rulings.

Nine states are currently covered by the 9th Circuit, but the legislation would leave just California and Hawaii in a revamped lineup.

The proposal splits the seven other states into two new courts: one to handle appeals from Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Nevada; and the other to oversee Alaska, Oregon and Washington.

Supporters said the new lineup reflects the need to address the region's bulging caseload and rapid population growth. They denied the vote Tuesday was an expression of displeasure with court rulings, including the 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

"The need to split the 9th Circuit is undeniable. It has grown so rapidly that we will have to split this court," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

However, the measure, which passed by a vote of 205-194, was not expected to become law because of strong opposition in the Senate. It is part of a larger bill that passed by voice vote and would create 58 new judgeships across the nation.

Opponents said the legislation's certain death in the Senate was evidence that Republicans were more interested, in the words of Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., in providing "campaign-season cannon fodder" to their political base than passing a bill that would relieve overburdened federal courts.

Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., described 9th Circuit judges as activists who are "legislating from the bench."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and a majority of 9th Circuit judges say the split is unnecessary.

Most of the 21 California Republicans in the House initially opposed the measure, and their votes would have insured its defeat. But at least 10 Californians changed their votes to "yes" after huddling on the House floor, while five Republicans maintained their opposition.

"We don't want to create a hyper-liberal court in California" by putting the court's more conservative judges in the two new circuits, said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., among the vote-switchers.

Lawmakers were reassured that the new 9th Circuit would be given seven new judgeships to dilute, in effect, what they see as its liberal leanings, Rohrabacher said.



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