Voice of the times on a proposal to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court:

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2001

Maybe at last, in this new Congress, action finally will be taken to reduce the size of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and create a new 12th Circuit from the rubble.

Rubble may sound like an odd word to use when speaking of action to break up the nation's largest appellate court. But it is apt.

The existing court, based in San Francisco but with jurisdiction that seems to sprawl across half the world, has more cases than it can efficiently handle -- and the worst record in the American court system.

In a recent term, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 95 percent of the 9th Circuit cases that it reviewed.

That's a shameful record.

But it has been bad for years, and Congress has dickered and danced and dallied -- and done nothing about solving the problem.

Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski is making one more try at setting things right. He has introduced a bill that would split the court into two separate circuits: the 9th, embracing California, Arizona and Nevada; and the 12th, handling cases from Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

This is a plan we have endorsed for years and we do so again.

This time around, Murkowski has been joined on his bill by Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Conrad Burns of Montana, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo of Idaho, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

That's an all-Republican lineup of co-sponsors, but with any good luck the measure will have broad bipartisan support. It certainly is an issue that should not be hampered by political games.

The jurisdiction of the existing court spreads over an area of 14 million square miles, and it is burdened by a huge caseload that is larger than that of any other circuit in the country. Moreover, the court serves a population nearly double that of the next largest circuit.

Alaskans long have complained that cases involving issues affecting this state too often have been handled by a panel of appellate judges mostly from California and other distant jurisdictions. They may know the law -- although the Supreme Court reversal rate suggests they may not -- but it's fair to say they have no appreciation or understanding of the underlying issues involved in some of the Alaska cases before them.

The court is too big, too bulky, too vast.

It needs to be broke up. Sooner rather than later.

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