Alaska editorial: Split 9th Circuit

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2007

This editorial appeared in The Voice of the Times:

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You begin to wonder how many times Congress will have to get the message before it accepts the reality that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needs to be split.

Over the years, numerous measures have been introduced to break up the court into more manageable sizes, only to have them fail because of special interests - make that the power of the California delegation on Capitol Hill.

The 9th Circuit is based in San Francisco. Any move to reshape it to actually better serve justice in the states it embraces runs up against California's solid opposition to any lessening of its influence and importance.

Yet Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, bless 'em, haven't given up.

On Feb. 8, they introduced another bill to do the job, this time joined by Nevada Sen. John Ensign.

Their proposal would create a new 12th Circuit Court, serving Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. Left in the 9th Circuit would be California, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

By any measure, the remaining 9th Circuit still would be huge - both geographically and in the number of cases heard, because of the enormous case load that is generated in California lower courts alone.

And therein lies one of the big existing problems. Cases from the other less populous states are merged with the heavy flow from California, and the court is burdened with more work than it can properly and efficiently handle.

"The sheer size of the 9th Circuit makes its caseload simply unmanageable," said Stevens in support of the new legislation. Murkowski put it this way: "No one court can effectively exercise its power in an area that extends from the Arctic Circle to the tropics."

Their Nevada colleague expressed it this way: "For too long people's lives have been on hold because the 9th Circuit is strained beyond its capacity. Justice delayed is justice denied."

Amen to that.

We haven't yet heard what the California crowd intends to do, but we expect more obstruction, more opposition, more delay.

When that happens, the problems facing the 9th Circuit and its judges are only exacerbated.

Passage of legislation correcting the matter is long overdue.

We applaud our senators and Sen. Ensign for the new attempt to right this wrong.

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