NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2004

There is a move afoot to split the U.S. Ninth Circuit court into three smaller circuits. The new Ninth would consist of California and Hawaii, plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. A new Twelfth Circuit would comprise Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Montana, and a new Thirteenth Circuit would consist of Washington, Oregon and Alaska. All these states and territories make up the current Ninth Circuit.

Contrary to popular belief, judicial circuits are much more than just courts of appeals; they comprise numerous lower courts and administrative units -- thousands of people in all. While these units have some autonomy, they are centrally administered and share many important functions.

According to Ninth Circuit Judges Alex Kozinski and Sidney R. Thomas:

  • Dividing the Ninth and setting up administrative structures for the two new circuits would be enormously disruptive and expensive -- initial cost estimates run to $130 million.
  • Worse, the new circuits would spend an estimated $22 million every year duplicating each other's core functions.
  • Splitting the circuit will require further layoffs of experienced staff so that the new circuits can hire inexperienced replacements in different locales.

It will necessitate construction of new courthouses, leaving present buildings underused, say Kozinski and Thomas. Three circuits, with triplicate headquarters, clerk's offices, procurement divisions and other administrative functions would force judges to spend much more time feeding the administrative beast rather than deciding cases. Litigants would have to wait even longer for their cases to be resolved.

Splitting a federal judicial circuit is exceedingly rare -- it has happened only twice since the appellate circuits were created in 1891. It is a complex process that risks seriously disrupting the administration of justice, say Kozinski and Thomas.

Source: Alex Kozinski and Sidney R. Thomas, "Don't Split the Ninth Circuit!" Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB110005241073369758,00.html


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