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

Legislation Implements Judicial Conference Recommendations, Splits the Ninth Circuit

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) have introduced the Judicial Efficiency Improvement Act of 2021, a bill that would codify the Judicial Conference’s most recent recommendations as well as other important measures to enhance the effectiveness of the federal judiciary. The legislation would authorize 77 permanent district court judgeships, convert nine temporary district court judgeships into permanent posts, authorize two appellate court judgeships for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and create a new Twelfth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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 for needed federal judgeships.

“It’s been four decades since a non-partisan judicial commission determined the Ninth Circuit suffers from ‘serious difficulties with backlog and delay’ due to its size and scope. Those difficulties have only gotten worse with time and inaction, leaving citizens under its jurisdiction—including all Alaskans—with less-than equal access to justice,” said Sen. Sullivan. “We know the problem. The solution—splitting the Ninth Circuit, establishing a new Twelfth Circuit Court of Appeals, and adding new judgeships—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 a circuit court using short-cuts to manage its workload and litigants waiting 40 percent longer to get their cases resolved, something I saw firsthand as a judicial law clerk for the Ninth Circuit. Our legislation would rectify this injustice and finally ensure the federal judicial system fairly serves the rapidly-growing West.”

“As a result of massive population growth across several western states, the Ninth Circuit has seen an overwhelming increase in caseloads, creating a lengthy process for those seeking justice,” said Sen. Crapo. “Splitting the Ninth Circuit would provide for a more expedient route to justice for many individuals in the West.”

“When the Ninth Circuit Court serves nearly twice the number of people as the next-largest judicial circuit and carries five times the case backlog of the average circuit, then it should be clear to anyone with a calculator that the Ninth is overdue to be split,” said Sen. Risch. “Restructuring the Ninth Circuit will result in more manageable caseloads and allow the courts to more closely mirror the populations they serve.”

“For years, the Ninth Circuit Court—the largest of the regional courts—has faced an unsustainably high number of cases per judge, resulting in serious administrative difficulties and significant backlogs. The efficiency of the Ninth Circuit must be improved to ensure that justice is not unduly delayed for any individual,” said Sen. Murkowski. “This legislation would split the Ninth Circuit Court and create a Twelfth Circuit Court, allowing Alaska and other Western states to be served fairly and efficiently.”

“Splitting the Ninth Circuit will improve Montanans’ access to justice and end the unacceptable backlogs and delays they are currently experiencing. This is a much-needed reform to ensure Montanans are being well-served by our judicial system,” said Sen. Daines.

This bill would codify the 2021 recommended judgeships by:

  • Authorizing two appellate court judgeships for the Ninth Circuit.
  • Authorizing 77 permanent district court judgeships around the country.
  • Converting nine temporary district court judgeships to permanent.

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. Appeals take 30 percent longer to dispose of than in the next largest circuit, and one-third 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.

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 be 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.