Senators author bills to promote equal access to justice, restructure the most populous circuit court to better serve the American people
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) have introduced two bills to address failures in America’s system of justice by restructuring the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which, because of its size and scope, denies citizens in its jurisdiction equal access to justice.
The Circuit Court of Appeals Restructuring and Modernization Act would split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals into two circuits: the Ninth and the Twelfth Circuits. The reconfigured Ninth Circuit would then be comprised of California, Guam, Hawaii, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The new Twelfth Circuit would include Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
The Federal Courts of Appeals Modernization Act would establish a commission to study the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals system to identify the changes needed to be made in order to promote an “expeditious and effective disposition” of the Ninth Circuit caseload. Two prior commission—one in 1973 and the other in 1998—determined that the Ninth Circuit had an overly-burdensome size and scope negatively impacting the administration of justice for the nearly 65 million Americans subject to its jurisdiction.
“When our courts are overburdened and overworked, Americans are left underserved and waiting too long for justice. It’s time to take a serious look at how our court system can better serve the American people,” Senator Daines stated. “The Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction includes 20 percent of our country’s population, nearly twice the size of the next largest circuit, and holds more than 30 percent of all pending cases. The Ninth Circuit has failed to adequately serve Americans’ needs – it’s time a court system that functions and provides the American people with the service they deserve.”
“Over four decades ago, a commission determined the Ninth Circuit to have ‘serious difficulties with backlog and delay’ and recommended it be split in the way other circuits have been in the past,” said Senator Sullivan. “Its disproportion has only grown since then. The population of the Ninth Circuit is nearly 85 percent bigger than the next largest circuit and covers 40 percent of our country’s land mass. Rather than address the problem of the equal access to justice for citizens living in its jurisdiction—including my constituents in Alaska—the court has used short-cuts to manage its workload. As a former judicial law clerk for the Ninth Circuit, I saw this firsthand. It’s time we address this issue rather than continue to allow our system of justice to be short-changed.”
About the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit:
- At 64.4 million people served, the current Ninth Circuit is the largest circuit by population, as well as the largest land area. It includes 20 percent of the nation’s population and is 85 percent larger than the next largest circuit, which serves just 34.8 million people.
- The Ninth Circuit has had on average more than 32 percent of all cases pending nationally. It currently has 14,200 cases pending— three times more than the next closest circuit, the Fifth Circuit, at 4,638 cases pending.
- The Ninth Circuit has averaged the longest median time from appeal to termination over the last five years at 14.7 months. The next closest was the Sixth Circuit at 12.7 months.
- In recent years, there has been a bipartisan push to help the Ninth Circuit with its heavy caseload, including a call by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the 105th Congress for a commission to study the Ninth Circuit. This was the second commission to suggest that changes needed to be made to the structure of the federal courts of appeal.