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Arizona Sen. Flake Holds Meeting On Breaking Up 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals

Sen. Jeff Flake
(Photo via Sen. Jeff Flake Facebook)
Sen. Jeff Flake chairing a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

Arizona Sen. Flake said it was appropriate to be meeting in the Sandra Day O’Connor Court House because the former Supreme Court justice was in favor of breaking up the 9th Circuit as well. Flake is sponsoring a bill in Congress that would move Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Washington into a newly-established 12th Circuit.

Flake said times have changed since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was established and it was time for the court to change as well.

"When it was formed, its vastness was justified because it contained only 4 percent of the national population," Flake said. "Now it contains 20 percent and it’s still growing."

Several federal judges testified for and against a division.

Diarmuid O’Scannlain is a judge for the 9th Circuit in Portland. He supports a restructuring, calling it a common sense reaction to the nation’s shifting population.

O’Scannlain said the 9th Circuit is responsible for 20 percent of all federal appeals while the average circuit handles only 7 percent of the federal appellate caseload.

“It is utterly inappropriate as a matter of national judicial policy. It is time and it has long been time to take the sensible step to do something about this disparity," he said.

However Chief Justice Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit from Billings, Montana said Congress should not act to divide the circuit because of dissatisfaction with their decisions. 

“Our independent judiciary is one of the critical and surest institutions conducive to the freedom of our country and we need to maintain it,” Thomas said.

Judge Richard Tallman, a 9th district judge from Seattle, followed saying he supported a division. He said the circuit relies too heavily on visiting judges from other circuits and often takes years to hear appeals.

9th Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder testified that technology has allowed the circuit to remain close and efficient despite its vast jurisdiction and they were making progress reducing their backlogged cases. She said fragmenting their resources would only hinder that progress.

Senator Flake said he would take the judges’ comments under advisement as he continued to work on the issue in Congress.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.