Friday, November 4, 2005
Democrats Attack House Committee Action on Circuit Split
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats yesterday attacked action by a House committee approving the break-up of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
House Republicans yesterday included the break-up in a budget bill that would be immune from Senate filibuster.
“It does not have the support to pass both houses of Congress, so House Republicans are seeking to stifle debate and the democratic process by inserting a controversial measure into the expedited budget process,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said.
Supporters say the Ninth Circuit, which covers nine states with about 54 million people, is too large to operate effectively. But opponents allege politics by Republicans angry at some of the court’s rulings, like the 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.
Republicans have been trying for years to break up the Ninth Circuit. They’ve tried unsuccessfully in the past to get the measure through Congress attached to budget bills full of other provisions lawmakers want to support.
The full Senate passed its own version of the deficit reduction bill yesterday without the Ninth Circuit split. If the breakup makes it through the House, congressional negotiators would have to work out whether to include it in the final bill the House and Senate would vote on.
Feinstein called the break-up “bad news for California.”
The House Budget Committee approved the breakup as part of a $53.9 billion package of mandatory spending cuts over five years.
“I strongly oppose this effort to split the Ninth Circuit,” Feinstein said in a statement. “It is a lose/lose proposition, one with clear financial costs to the administration of justice and with human costs to those with cases before the court.”
The committee action came as part of a budget reconciliation package moving forward through Congress under expedited procedures. The package now goes to the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.).
Earlier this week, Feinstein wrote Dreier urging him to oppose the plan.
The proposal, also approved as a stand-alone bill by the House Judiciary Committee last week, would split the Ninth Circuit in two. The restructured Ninth Circuit would include California, Hawaii, Guam, and the North Marianas Islands, while a new circuit — the Twelfth Circuit — would be created, consisting of Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
Feinstein said she intends to raise a point of order on the floor of the Senate if the Ninth Circuit split language is included in the final Budget Reconciliation conference report. Under the so-called “Byrd Rule,” the inclusion of matters in reconciliation measures not connected to its central, budgetary purpose is generally prohibited and subject to a 60-vote point of order, she said.
“This split would dramatically increase the caseload for the new Ninth Circuit and it is bad news for California,” Feinstein declared. “A new Ninth Circuit of California and Hawaii would keep 72% of the caseload of the current Ninth Circuit, but only 60% of the judges. As a result, the caseload a new Ninth Circuit would have 536 cases per judge, while the proposed Twelfth Circuit would have only 317 cases per judge.”
The federal Administrative Office of the Courts has estimated that such a split could cost as much as $96 million in start up costs for the Twelfth circuit and $16 million in annual operating expenses, Feinstein said. She added that only three of the 24 active judges on the Ninth Circuit favor splitting the Circuit.
The four state bar associations that have taken a position on the proposed split – those of Arizona, Washington, Montana, and Hawaii – have opposed it, she said.
Supporters of the split would need 60 votes to waive the point of order and keep the measure in the bill, the senator asserted.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company