Could the Ninth Circuit rule on its own split?

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has introduced a bill (one of four currently in Congress) to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals into two circuit courts.  Apparently in response to reports that Ninth Circuit judges opposed the bill, Senator Flake asked the Ninth Circuit Executive for clarification on the court’s ability to rule fairly if the legislation were adopted and subsequently challenged. This week,  Cathy Catterson, the Circuit Executive of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, responded with an unqualified yes.

Given that bills to split the Ninth Circuit have been introduced many times since 1941, and have never gained serious traction, it is hard to see this as anything more than political posturing.  But the regular recurrence of the proposal again illustrates the deep interdependence of the federal courts.  Indeed, circuit reorganization is literally an existential issue, affecting active judgeships, resources, case assignments, precedent, and internal court dynamics.  The judges naturally have an interest in the outcome, but they lack any direct say in it.

So let’s play out the hypothetical.  Could the Ninth Circuit judges rule on the reorganization of their own court?  And what would that look like? Continue reading “Could the Ninth Circuit rule on its own split?”

Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials

Starting today.  This is a very interesting development for a few reasons.  First, it appears to apply to both criminal and civil cases, with exceptions made only for highly sensitive proceedings like juvenile and family cases, criminal pretrial motions, grand jury hearings, probate matters, and trade secret disputes.  Second, it is being permitted by state supreme court rule rather than legislation.  Third, the cameras will be operated by  external media outlets, who may edit the materials as they see fit (although they are cautioned to edit wisely).

I have long been an advocate of the educational and cognitive benefits of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, and was disappointed when the federal pilot project for recording selected civil proceedings was terminated in 2015.  Nebraska’s new policy is much more expansive than the federal pilot, and does pose a certain risk that courtroom events will be unfairly or improperly presented, that off-limits personnel (like jurors) will be shown, or that witnesses or lawyers will play to the cameras.  But I think the risk is minimal.  Continue reading “Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials”

Kentucky Senate passes bill to reallocate judgeships

The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would remove some general trial court judges from existing judicial districts and circuits, and add a roughly equal number of family court judges across the state.  The proposed reallocation of judicial resources would be the first in 124 years.  If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect in 2020.

The proposed reallocation is based on a weighted caseload study, a tool used by the federal courts (among others) for more than a decade to account for the complexity and expected resource consumption of particular case types.  Murder cases and complex commercial disputes tend to consumer more judicial resources than, for example, misdeameanors or garden-variety contract disputes.  Weighted caseloads try to account for these differences, and seek to allocate judges in a way that balances out the court system’s overall resources.  The National Center for State Courts assisted with the study.

 

A few thoughts from my recent Prawfsblawg stint

I was fortunate enough to guest blog over at Prawfsblawg during the month of February, and touched on a number of topics related to court organization and resource dependency.  In case you missed them the first time around:

In Praise of Geographic Diversity on the Supreme Court

The Organizational Character of Courts

Managing the Vacancy Crisis: An Example of Resource Dependence in Federal Courts

Why Is it So Hard for the (Federal) Courts to Innovate?

Who Speaks for the Courts? Who Should?

ABA Ratings of Federal Judicial Nominees

Judicial pay linked to the salaries of top elected officials in Colorado

As reported here.  The legislation dates to 2015, but it has become freshly salient in light of the Chief Justice’s push for judicial pay hikes and the Governor’s request for across-the-board pay hikes for top elected officials.  Key graf:

One downside to Colorado’s approach: It could make it harder for lawmakers to consider judicial pay increases on their own merits. What happens, for instance, if a lawmaker believes judges are underpaid, but feels that lawmaker pay shouldn’t be increased?

 

Interdependence Classics: Deanelle Reece Tacha, Independence of the Judiciary for the Third Century

This is the first in a series of occasional posts, highlighting scholarship and writings on the relationship between the court system and its external environment.

Tenth Circuit Judge Deanelle Reece Tacha’s 1995 article, Independence of the Judiciary in the Third Century, offers a short and engaging summary of the dependency issues that the federal courts faced at the end of the twentieth century.  Much of her description and analysis is equally relevant today.

Judge Tacha notes from the outset that “[e]xamining the independence of the judiciary and perceptions about its erosion requires that one see the issue in both the institutional and the individual sense.”  It is natural, and in a sense traditional, to think of independence in terms of tenure protection. But while life tenure protects individual judges from the vagaries of the political climate, it does not protect the judiciary as a whole from resource-related strains.

Continue reading “Interdependence Classics: Deanelle Reece Tacha, Independence of the Judiciary for the Third Century”