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Lawmakers renew push to break up 9th Circuit

By ERICA WERNER Associated Press 10/27/05

WASHINGTON -- Republicans in Congress are renewing their push to break up the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the nation's largest federal appeals court -- the frequent source of rulings that infuriate conservatives -- has become too big to be effective.

"I'm not aware in the Western world of a court this big," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the issue.

Opponents say that the circuit's size was not, in itself, a problem.

They charged that those seeking the change were motivated in part by politics.

"I think there are political reasons here. People say there aren't; I believe there are," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The GOP-led House last year approved splitting the 9th Circuit, but the measure did not get a vote in the Senate, which is unlikely to approve such legislation this time around, either.

The 9th Circuit covers nine states and has 28 judgeships.

"Right now we have a caseload that is overwhelming, but with the population and the demographics in the area we can only anticipate that it gets worse," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Murkowski and Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev., have sponsored legislation to split the 9th Circuit in two.

The resulting 9th Circuit would cover California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and a new 12th Circuit would cover Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Arizona.

The 9th Circuit has issued a series of rulings that angered Republicans, including the 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools, and the 2003 ruling that the federal law outlawing marijuana does not apply to patients whose doctors have recommended the drug.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the pledge ruling and overturned the decision on medical marijuana -- a frequent fate of rulings by the 9th Circuit.




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