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

Sullivan Legislation Implements Judicial Conference Recommendations, Splits the Ninth Circuit

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Steve Daines (R-MT), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced the Judicial Efficiency Improvement Act of 2019, 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 56 permanent district court judgeships, convert eight temporary district court judgeships into permanent posts, and authorize five 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 on judgeships.

“There are currently about sixty-five million Americans under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit – some thirty million more than the next largest circuit,” said Senator Sullivan. “Due to this enormous and enduring disparity, Americans in the West are losing faith in their access to justice, having to wait thirty percent longer to have their appeals resolved. This is unacceptable and all the more confounding, because Congress has a remedy for this problem that has been used numerous times throughout our history. It is time for members of Congress to end the delays and short-cuts that deny justice for millions of Americans, and finally approve these critical new judgeships and a new circuit court.” 

“As part of the Ninth Circuit, Montanans and other citizens are unable to have their cases heard in a timely manner, and are therefore being denied equal access to justice,” Senator Daines said. “By splitting the Ninth Circuit, it will help improve America’s judicial system.”

“With its massive caseloads and vast geography, the current Ninth Circuit is simply too big to work well,” Senator McSally said. “Arizonans deserve a court system that delivers timely justice close to home which is why we need to split the Ninth and add capacity to our courts.”

“For the sake of so many individuals seeking justice, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needs to be split. As the largest of the regional courts, the Ninth Circuit Court faces a higher number of cases than any other in the country—so many that it is experiencing serious administrative difficulties, causing significant delays and often rendering it unable to properly serve those in need,” said Senator 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.”

This bill would codify the 2017 recommended judgeships by:

  • Authorizing five appellate court judgeships for the Ninth Circuit.
  • Authorizing 56 permanent district court judgeships around the country.
  • Converting eight 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% of the landmass of the United States and 1-in-5 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 14 appellate court judges.
  • California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Mariana Islands would remain under the Ninth Circuit, served by 20 appellate court judges.