Bill Would Split Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Two U.S. senators Monday introduced a measure to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) have introduced the Court of Appeals Restructuring and Modernization Act or CARMA (S. 1845), which is designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the court by reducing its size and creating a new Twelfth Circuit. CARMA was also co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

"It's always been both Senator Ensign's and my strong belief that there are many ways to divide the Circuit effectively and, that it's equally important for the Senate to speak with one voice on this important issue. The new Murkowski/Ensign bill represents that unified voice," Murkowski said in a statement.

Murkowski introduced a similar measure, S. 1296, earlier this year, which would have split the court in two. Meanwhile, Ensign introduced a bill around the same that would have split it three ways, creating new Twelfth and Thirteenth Circuit Courts.

CARMA borrows from Ensign's version of the bill by increasing the number of judges in the new Twelfth Circuit from 19 to 20. It would also add to the judicial rotation of the court the following cities: Las Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix, Portland, Missoula, Pasadena, San Francisco and Honolulu.

The Ninth Circuit, which covers nine states, is considered the largest of all U.S. Circuit Courts. It is larger than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th , 5th , 6th , 7th , and 11th Circuits combined. The Ninth Circuit contains the fastest growing states in the U.S.

According to the Census Bureau, by 2010, the population of the states the Ninth Circuit covers will grow to over 63 million.

The court's increasing caseload negatively impacts the judges' ability to stay on top of legal developments, Murkowski said. It handles more cases than any other Circuit. Last year alone, 14,272 cases were filed.

The Ninth Circuit is the only circuit in which all judges do not review panel decisions, and it allows the court to be comprised of 11 members compared to the full 28 members. Every other Circuit requires a review by its full panel, thus resulting in the need for only six members of the 28 to have a majority opinion, Murkowski added.

As it stands now, the average time to get a final disposition of an appellate case in the Ninth Circuit is about five months longer than the national average.

See Earlier Story:
Judge Rules Pledge of Allegiance Unconstitutional (Sept. 14, 2005)

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