Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Ninth Circuit Breakup Plan Dropped From Budget Bill
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
In the face of Senate opposition, a GOP plan to break up the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was dropped from a budget bill that passed the House early yesterday.
House Republicans who contend the nation’s largest federal appeals court has gotten too big to be effective included legislation splitting it into two entities in the House version of the deficit-trimming bill, passed last month.
But opponents of the breakup alleged political motives, contending Republicans were annoyed by Ninth Circuit rulings, including a 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.
The Ninth Circuit covers nine states with about 54 million people and has 28 judgeships. The circuit with the next-largest number of judgeships is the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, with 17.
Senators led by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., opposed including the Ninth Circuit split in the budget bill. She threatened to use procedural objections to block it if it got to the Senate floor.
House and Senate negotiators left the breakup out of the final version of the $39.7 billion federal budget bill that passed the House 212-206 and appeared likely to pass the Senate last night.
“The exclusion of language splitting the Ninth Circuit from the budget reconciliation bill is a victory for judicial independence, for the legislative process, and for California and the other Western states that comprise the Ninth Circuit,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The plan to split the Ninth Circuit was a politically driven attempt to intrude on the constitutionally mandated independence of the federal judiciary. It would have increased costs, decreased efficiency, and unfairly punished California.”
The proposal, which has also been approved as a stand-alone bill by the House Judiciary Committee, 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 threatened to raise a point of order on the floor of the Senate if the split was 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.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not take a position on the split but joined the committee’s ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in insisting that the issue not be taken up as part of the expedited, filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, also had weighed in against the split.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., supported the split, both as a stand-alone bill and as part of the budget bill.
“The chairman is disappointed that the opposition of some in the Senate has again delayed this needed administrative restructuring of the Ninth Circuit,” Sensenbrenner spokesman Jeff Lungren said.
“He’s going to continue to push it because it’s necessary, because the Ninth Circuit has become too big, too unwieldy, too cumbersome, and a realignment would allow for a better, more efficient administration of justice,” Lungren said.
Feinstein said California judges would have born disproportionately heavy case loads under the reconstituted Ninth Circuit, saying the state would get only 60 percent of the judges even though it would have 72 percent of the cases.
Most judges on the circuit opposed the split, which has long been a goal of some in the GOP. The Republican-led House passed a split measure last year but it didn’t get a Senate vote.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company