Hawaii senators join opposition to court split
Western Democrats say the GOP move to divide the 9th Circuit is politically motivated
WASHINGTON » Hawaii Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye joined with fellow Democratic senators from Western states opposing a House GOP plan to break the 9th U.S. Circuit Court in two.
The letter was sent yesterday 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.
The letter was signed by senators from six of the nine Western states that make up the 9th Circuit.
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 nonbudgetary measures being included in budget bills.
Signing the letter along with Feinstein, Akaka and Inouye were Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Max Baucus of Montana, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, Harry Reid of Nevada and Ron Wyden of Oregon.