Split the 9th Circuit: Overburdened court hampers delivery of justice

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The issue hasn't gone away. Nor have the problems.

The large, overburdened 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must be broken apart. Alaska would be better served, its issues better understood, if it could receive more attention from a slimmed down appellate court.

The 9th Circuit must be split, but it will take an action of Congress to do it.

The issue isn't a new one. Alaska's leaders for years have been asking Congress to break up the 9th Circuit, but Congress hasn't acted. The issue hasn't had much attention in recent years, but it came up again this week when 9th Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld spoke in Fairbanks.

The 9th Circuit rules on cases from nine Western states, including Alaska, as well as the territory of Guam. Those areas combined are home to well more than 50 million people.

Even the U.S. Department of Justice agreed. Back in 2005, Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella wrote in a letter that the 9th Circuit was essentially bloated, with consequences for the delivery of justice.

"The sheer size of the 9th Circuit has led to serious administrative difficulties that have adversely affected its ability to render justice efficiently," he wrote.

Much is made of the fact that the 9th Circuit has more of its rulings overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court than any of the other circuit courts - by far. But that's not really the point. Even if the 9th Circuit were to be overturned less frequently by the Supreme Court, the troubles with the timely administration of justice would remain.

Alaska's leaders must reinvigorate the push for breaking up the 9th Circuit. Congress should take the time to listen and, finally, act.

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