Senators Introduce Bill to Create New Twelfth Circuit, Improve Access to Justice

Legislation Implements Judicial Conference Recommendations, Splits the Ninth Circuit

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) today introduced the Judicial Efficiency Improvement Act of 2023, a bill that would split the massively overburdened Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and create a new Twelfth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to the split, the legislation would codify the Judicial Conference’s most recent recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of the federal judiciary by authorizing 66 new permanent district court judgeships, converting seven temporary district court judgeships into permanent posts, and authorizing two new appellate court judgeships for the Ninth Circuit.

“Non-partisan judicial commissions going back 50 years have determined the Ninth Circuit suffers from ‘serious difficulties with backlog and delay’ due to its immense size and scope,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Those deficiencies have only gotten worse with time and the explosion of growth in the American West, leaving citizens under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction—including all Alaskans—with less-than equal access to justice. As a former Ninth Circuit law clerk, I saw firsthand the court using shortcuts to manage its workload. The solution—splitting the Ninth Circuit—shouldn’t be controversial. We’ve split circuits and created new ones in the past to address the changes in our country’s population. What is controversial is stubbornly maintaining the status quo and undermining millions of Americans’ faith in their own access to justice. It is time for members of Congress to put the politics aside, end the delays and shortcuts, and finally approve these critical new judgeships and a new circuit court.”

“Changes are needed to address case backlogs and other inefficiencies prevalent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” said Sen. Crapo. “This legislation provides the necessary first step to understanding those inefficiencies and providing tangible solutions to problems slowing justice for Americans served by the current Ninth Circuit.”

“The people of Montana deserve a justice system that is not only fair but efficient,” said Sen. Daines. “Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court is the most inefficient Circuit Court in the country. It represents over 65 million Americans, nearly twice the number of people as the next-largest Circuit Court and thus five times the case backlog of most U.S. Appeals Courts. These delays and inefficiencies hurt Montanans. This reform is desperately needed to address Montanans’ inability to access justice in a timely fashion.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in a push to modernize the circuit court system. The Judicial Efficiency Improvement Act will help reduce the Ninth Circuit’s unmanageable caseload, which has resulted in years of backlogs, delays, and frustration. A new Twelfth Circuit will better serve Alaskans and other Western states,” Sen. Murkowski said.“The second bill we introduced, the Federal Courts of Appeals Modernization Act, will similarly streamline some of the inefficiencies within the Ninth Circuit by creating a commission to help identify changes that bring us up to date with the needs of Alaskans and all who are served by that Court.”

“The massive size of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—in terms of population served, geography, and caseload—is a huge disadvantage to Idahoans,” said Sen. Risch. “With the Judicial Efficiency Improvement Act and the Federal Court of Appeals Modernization Act, Congress would split the Ninth Circuit and modernize the court to allow for more efficient caseload processing to better serve Idahoans and Americans across the West.”

Currently, western states are subjected to an overburdened, inconsistent, and slow judiciary. This stems from having the largest circuit court in the nation in terms of geography, population, and workload. The Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction over 40 percent of the landmass of the United States and one-in-five Americans. The court also has more than double the average number of authorized judgeships among the circuits. One-fourth of all pending federal appeals are within the Ninth Circuit.Creating a new circuit would solve the inefficiencies associated with the size of the Ninth Circuit and restore many Americans’ access to justice.

This bill would codify the 2023 recommended judgeships by:

  • Authorizing two new appellate court judgeships for the Ninth Circuit.
  • Authorizing 66 new permanent district court judgeships around the country.
  • Converting seven temporary district court judgeships to permanent.

Additionally, under the proposed legislation:

  • Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington would be moved under a new Twelfth Circuit. The new circuit would be headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and served by 13 appellate court judges.
  • California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Mariana Islands would remain under the Ninth Circuit, served by 18 appellate court judges.

The senators also introduced the Federal Courts of Appeals Modernization Act, legislation that would establish a commission to study the federalcircuit court 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 commissions—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 66 million Americans subject to its jurisdiction.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the national policy-making body for the federal courts. It is comprised of the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the chief judge from each judicial circuit, the chief judge of the Court of International Trade, and a district judge from each regional circuit. Every two years, the Judicial Conference makes recommendations on judgeships.

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