The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to split into three new courts the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court, a move that would undermine the consistency of rulings that apply to nine Western states, Pacific coastal issues and three-quarters of all federal lands.
"This amendment is an underhanded and last-minute effort to divide the pool of judges along ideological lines," said Glenn Sugameli, Senior Legislative Counsel at Earthjustice. "Everyone from the American Bar Association to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes this as a bad idea."
The House narrowly approved an amendment unveiled just last night by Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), seeking to split the U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals into three separate appellate courts: a Ninth Circuit overseeing only California, Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam; a new 12th Circuit serving Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana; and a new 13th Circuit serving Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.
This controversial amendment bypassed the House Judiciary Committee and now threatens the viability of an underlying bill to create more federal judgeships, S. 878. The amendment to split the Ninth Circuit could prevent the bill from becoming law.
Anti-environmental special interests have long sought to increase their ability to "judge-shop" by dividing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals into a number of smaller appeals courts.
Polluters hope that creating these new circuits will boost their ability to get anti-environmental extremists, like failed Ninth Circuit Appellate Court nominee William G. Myers III, into lifetime federal judgeships -- thereby increasing their chances of winning anti-environmental rulings. In a letter sent to House members this morning, eight national conservation groups declaimed this attempt to divide and conquer the Ninth Circuit.
In 1990, Pete Wilson, former Republican Governor and U.S. Senator from California, condemned efforts to split the Ninth Circuit as "environmental gerrymandering" by those who had been angered by rulings upholding and enforcing environmental laws.
Today, opposition to a Ninth Circuit split includes the vast majority of Ninth Circuit judges; Mary Schroeder, the current Chief Judge; Senior Judge Clifford Wallace, a former Chief Judge nominated by President Richard Nixon; and Alex Kozinski, a conservative judge appointed to the Ninth Circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.
Other opponents to the proposed split include Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Democrat Governor Gary Locke of Washington, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Arizona, the Oregon State Bar, the Hawaii State Bar Association, as well as numerous prominent jurists and legal advocates.
Along with environmental concerns, opponents of a Ninth Circuit split have noted the enormous expense associated with creating two entirely new circuit courts of appeals, including the construction of new courthouses and infrastructure, and the hiring of new judges and staff.
"Splitting the Ninth Circuit would not only be bad for the environment -- it would be fiscally irresponsible as well," Sugameli said. "Already, our federal court system is in a virtually unprecedented fiscal crisis, which has led to suspension of new court construction and layoffs of court employees. Why spend nearly 150 million dollars to solve a problem that doesn't exist?"
More information on the proposed Ninth Circuit split, including links to testimony from previous Congressional hearings