Thursday, April 4, 2002
Ninth Circuit in ‘Very Good’ State, but Needs More Judges, Schroeder Tells Federal Bar Assn. Chapter
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The federal courts in the Ninth Circuit are not in crisis, but would benefit from an increase in the number of sitting judges as well as a pay hike, Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder told the Federal Bar Association’s Los Angeles chapter yesterday.
“The state of the circuit is very good,” she said. “There are no moves to divide it, knock on wood.”
Schroeder, delivering her second “State of the Circuit” address to the chapter at a luncheon at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel downtown, thanked the group for its opposition to moves to divide the circuit into separate circuits or into geographical divisions.
In past years, there were several bills in Congress that would have split the circuit in two. Although none of them passed, one resulted in compromise creating a federal commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Byron White to study that and related issues.
The White commission proposed that, rather than creating a new circuit, the existing circuit be divided into three semi-autonomous divisions, with California split between two of them. Schroeder joined with opponents of the proposal, which never went anywhere in Congress.
With that issue behind it, it is time for the circuit to turn to other priorities, the most important of which is the filling of judicial vacancies, the chief judge said yesterday.
There were more than 5,500 filings in the Ninth Circuit last year, giving it a much higher filings-per-judge ratio than other large courts, she said.
The problem is not only in the Court of Appeals, but in the district courts as well, she said. The Central District of California, she noted, has six vacancies, with only two nominees pending and “no early prospects for confirmation.”
Caseloads are likely to increase, she said, because of cross-border security concerns that have been heightened as a result of the events of Sept. 11. This will particularly effect the Central and Southern districts in this state and the District of Arizona, she said.
The “greatest [judicial] system…in the world” is imperiled, she said, by the prospect of political gridlock with respect to the filling of judicial vacancies, she said.
She cited President Bush’s speech in Atlanta, reported in the New York Times last Friday, in which the chief executive criticized Senate Democrats for blocking Judge Charles Pickering’s confirmation to the Fifth Circuit and said he would continue to nominate “strict constructionists” to the bench.
“The president and the Senate need to hear from the Federal Bar Association,” Schroeder said, about the needs of litigants to speedy justice.
Schroeder also told the group that judges need more money. Congress, she said, should eliminate the law linking judicial pay to the salaries of its own members and enact raises more reflective of salaries in the communities the courts serve. In many cities, including Los Angeles, associates at major law firms make more money than district judges do, Schroeder commented.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company