The DJ reports on yesterday's Congressional hearing (before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet) about the federal courts in Federal judges from 2 California districts ask for more judgeships. The hearing was titled "The Need for New Lower Court Judgeships, 30 Years in the Making."
- Congress decades ago abandoned its long-standing policy of regularly expanding the federal courts to match population growth. The results have been especially noticeable in fast-growing western and southern states, from California to Georgia and North Carolina.
- Chief Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the U.S. Eastern District of California and Senior Judge Larry A. Burns of the U.S. Southern District of California, each testified that their courts need several new judges. The Eastern District also has two vacancies, while the Southern District has five.
- “We need at least five new judges, and we have the infrastructure to house them and their staff,” Mueller said. “We urgently ask your help to meet the needs of the public we serve.”
- Mueller compared her court’s predicament to the speedy conveyor belt in the famous chocolate factory scene in “I Love Lucy.” The court has had just six judgeships since 1978, when the district’s population was half what it is today. She said partly because of the two vacancies, the district’s caseload is effectively almost three times the national average. The result is that the court ranks 93rd out of 94 federal districts in its time to close cases.
- While the hearing was mainly about the district courts, it almost inevitably turned into a debate over the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republican members have long criticized what they see as the court’s liberal bent and have often proposed splitting it in two.
- Vanderbilt Law School professor Brian T. Fitzpatrick testified the Supreme Court has reversed the 9th Circuit more than other courts. He endorsed splitting the circuit, with Southern California being placed into a new circuit while other Western states and Northern California share a circuit with Oregon and Washington.
- California Rep. Ted Lieu, who clerked on the 9th Circuit for Judge Thomas Tang, said he’s open to splitting the circuit. But he also accused Fitzpatrick of cherry-picking his data.
“Since 2005, the 9th Circuit has never been highest in terms of being overturned by the Supreme Court,” Lieu said. “Mr. Fitzpatrick is misleading us.”