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Idaho congressional delegation proposes splitting 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would also give Idaho a much-needed third federal judge.
Credit: KTVB
Official congressional photos of Sen. Mike Crapo (left), Sen. Jim Risch, Rep. Mike Simpson, and Rep. Russ Fulcher (right).

Idaho's congressional delegation has introduced legislation that would split the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and add a third federal judge to Idaho.

In a joint news release on Tuesday, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, said the legislation would address the "federal judicial crisis in Idaho."

If approved by the House and Senate, a pair of companion bills would split the 9th Circuit into two, with the new 9th Circuit composed of California, Guam, Hawaii, and Northern Mariana Islands. The new 12th Circuit would encompass Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

The delegation argues that Congress should realign the appeals courts every few decades, "into more efficient and manageable circuits that best represent the people within the circuit and provide them with an expeditious judicial process."

The last time an appeals court was split was in 1981 when the 11th Circuit was created by splitting off Alabama, Florida and Georgia off from the old 5th Circuit.

"The Ninth Circuit was established 131 years ago," Crapo said in the news release. "The region has experienced exponential growth since that time, particularly in Idaho, which has created significant caseloads for the Court to consider.

"Splitting the Ninth Circuit will help generate a swifter route to justice for those in the region," he added.

Risch pointed out that the 9th Circuit serves nearly twice the number of people as the next-largest appeals court and carries five times the case backlog of the average circuit.

"It should be clear to anyone with a calculator that the Ninth is overdue to be split," Risch said.

Simpson echoed those sentiments, noting that one in five Americans live in the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction.

"Putting aside any political, historical or emotional arguments, the numbers speak for themselves on why a split of the Ninth Circuit is inevitable," he said. "The Ninth Circuit has more people than the First, Second, Third and D.C. Circuits combined! We need a new circuit."

Fulcher argued that the new proposed 12th Circuit would more closely align with Idaho's policies and values.

"The differences between California and Idaho's policies, values, and economies couldn't be more different," he said in the news release. "Despite these differences, our states have been lumped together into the Ninth District Court of Appeals - meaning cases for Idaho and western rural states like Arizona, Nevada, and Montana are heard in San Francisco by judges who may interpret federal laws with influence from a more metropolitan region."

Two additional bills the delegation introduced in the House and Senate would appoint an additional federal district judge for Idaho.

Idaho is one of three states with only two federal district judges. The state has not been granted an additional judgeship in 60 years, though the state's population has tripled during that timeframe and caseloads have soared.

"For nearly two decades, the Judicial Conference of the United States has consistently found Idaho to be facing a judicial emergency based on weighted caseload numbers per active judge," Crapo said, adding that "Idaho is in a precarious position to serve justice expeditiously."

The House bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

The Senate version of the legislation to add a third federal judge has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Crapo is a member, for further consideration.

The lawmakers said the Senate version of the appeals court bill will be introduced on the Senate floor when the Senate can move from the impeachment trial to regular legislative business.

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