Sen. Murkowski right to take on breakup of Ninth Circuit Court What others say

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Common sense has long been absent among those who defend the size of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. They refuse to acknowledge that the court is far too big, its case load far too large, most of its judges too far removed from the real life of much of the area they are supposed to serve.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the latest to take up the battle to break up the court. We wish her better luck than others before her who for years and years have been preaching judicial sanity, only to be beaten back by the force of California politics.

The court's headquarters is in San Francisco. The California bar and the California judges on the court who far outnumber jurists from other states who serve on the Ninth Circuit throw up roadblock after roadblock.

For some reason, they seem to take some kind of territorial pride in keeping the Ninth Circuit just the way it is despite the fact that, in many ways, it is the laughingstock of the federal court system. More of its rulings are routinely overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court than any other appellate court in the country.

You almost sense the court takes pride in its shabby record.

Sen. Murkowski, wisely and with great hopes, has introduced a bill that offers two new options that go beyond previous proposals that have gotten nowhere.

One of her plans would leave Nevada and California in the Ninth Circuit, and create a new circuit that would include Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest states and the Pacific territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The other which has considerable appeal would split the existing court into thirds: one including California, Hawaii and the Pacific territories in the Ninth Circuit; another, a new 12th Circuit, which would include Arizona, Nevada, Montana and Idaho; and a new 13th Circuit which would embrace Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

She calls the last of those three the Pacific Northwest Circuit Court of Appeals.

The reasons for this are obvious and have been stated often. It's worth repeating a few of them: judges named to the new circuits would have a better understanding of the issues that come before them; the caseloads now weighing down the existing court would be spread over the new regions; decisions would be rendered in a more timely fashion; and, to use a phrase that may seem trite, justice would be better served. Last year the Ninth Circuit had 11,277 cases pending 4,510 more than the next busiest circuit court.

The matter, she says, ''just cries out for reform.''

Alaska's senator is right on target.

The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - April 26

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