Last month, the North Carolina legislature voted to move all state judicial elections back to partisan contests, overriding a veto by Governor Roy Cooper in the process. Now a new legislative battle is looming: the reduction in the size of the state’s court of appeals.
North Carolina currently has a 15-member court of appeals, but House Bill 239 would reduce its size to twelve members. The immediate impact would be that three Republican judges who are nearing mandatory retirement age could not be replaced by Governor Cooper, a Democrat. The Governor has vetoed the bill, noting correctly that “Having three fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay timely appeals.” The legislature, however, is expected to override the veto.
These issues keep arising in a political context, but the sensible structuring of the courts to allow them to conduct their business should not be a partisan issue. The North Carolina legislature is playing games with the administration of justice, pure and simple.
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?”