Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Page 1


U.S. Senate Votes to Add 29th Judgeship to Ninth Circuit


By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer


The U.S. Senate has approved a measure to add a judge to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—bringing the total number of authorized active judges to 29—by eliminating a vacant seat on the D.C. Circuit.

The Senate adopted the measure Monday night when it voted unanimously to pass H.R. 660, also known as the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007, which would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code to provide added protection for judges, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and family members.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, said in a press release:

“This legislation will meet an urgent need by adding a new Ninth Circuit judgeship in California…  The Senate has recognized that it makes sense to take a judgeship from where it is needed least, and put it in California where it is needed most.”

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz, agreed that the change was necessary.

“The Ninth Circuit, which serves Arizona and the Western states, has the largest caseload and backlog, despite a full complement of active judges,” he said a statement.  “This new seat will help alleviate the delays of the Ninth Circuit.”

The House previously passed the measure on July 10, 2007, and the bill may now proceed to a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out differences in the versions of the bill each chamber approved.  However, whether the bill will proceed to a conference committee is unclear. 

The Senate previously passed its own version of the bill, S. 378, shortly before the House’s action.  But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in floor remarks that the bills had been blocked from going to a conference committee after the House’s action because an anonymous Republican senator placed a hold on the Senate bill.

Feinstein said in her statement that the transfer was the result of “a judicial emergency so severe that [Ninth Circuit] judges have the highest caseload in the nation.” 

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Ninth Circuit has approximately five times more appeals filed per every year per judge than the D.C. Circuit, and has the highest number of pending appeals of any circuit in the country.

Feinstein said that California is hit hardest by the inadequate number of judgeships on the Ninth Circuit.  She said that in 2005, 70 percent of all appeals on the circuit’s docket were filed in California, but only 50 percent of the circuit’s judgeships – 14 – were assigned to the state.

In addition to the transfer, H.R. 660, as passed by the Senate, would provide for improvements to judicial security and an increase in appropriations to the U.S. Marshals Service.  The bill would require that the director of the Marshals Service consult with the Judicial Conference on a continuing basis regarding security requirements for the judicial branch, and provide the Marshals Service with an additional $20 million annually from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011.

It would also enhance criminal laws prohibiting retaliation against judges, family members and witnesses, and extend a ban on firearms in courtrooms to include other dangerous weapons; appropriate $20 million annually from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011 to a grant program to improve security for state and local judges; and require the Department of Justice to report on the security of assistant U.S. attorneys and other federal attorneys who prosecute cases involving terrorists, violent criminal gangs, gun and drug traffickers, white supremacists,  and other criminal matters.

The bill also includes a number of miscellaneous provisions, one of which would amend 28 U.S.C. § 296 to provide that a district judge who has retired from regular active service, but who continues to sit by designation or assignment, has the powers of a judge of that court to participate in appointment of court officers and magistrate judges, rulemaking, governance, and administrative matters so long as the judge completed an amount of work during the preceding year equivalent to the amount an average judge in active service on that court would perform in six months.

Another provision would allow federal judges to substitute the address of their courthouse for their residential address on a state-issued driver’s license.


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