Buried deep in the massive House spending-cut proposal is a provision to do what many conservatives have been wanting to do for years: split up the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and allow President Bush to appoint some new judges to it.
The underlying spending-cut proposal trims $53.9 billion from mandatory spending programs under eight House committees. It was approved yesterday by the budget panel, 21-17, with the court-splitting provision included — one of many issues about which Democrats complained.
Republicans said the change would be good for the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, the largest and most backlogged of the circuits, spanning nine Western states, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. It repeatedly has made rulings at which conservatives bristle, including the 2002 decision that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of the phrase “under God.”
“I think it’d give us the opportunity to have a balanced court,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee that crafted the provision. “It’s the most-reversed court in the country.”
The provision prompted immediate outrage from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who said there is “no justification” for it.
“Today’s action is the latest in a series of Republican attacks on an independent judiciary, and the latest in financial irresponsibility by the Republican majority,” she said. “It is simply a partisan exercise to appease the radical right.”
The plan, which has been discussed for years, would create a new 12th circuit with seven of the Western states, leaving the 9th Circuit with California, Hawaii, Guam and the islands.
Mr. Lungren said California conservatives have worried in the past that splitting the court would leave them with the liberal California judges. As part of the court-splitting provision, however, Mr. Bush would be allowed to nominate five new judges to the 9th Circuit immediately. Judiciary aides point out that the administrative wing of the federal courts has requested such new judgeships.
Top Judiciary Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan said Republicans “have been trying … for years,” to split the court, but that it likely will not become a law.
He doubts the change would make the court less liberal and said a recent study shows the 9th Circuit opposes a split.
Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee passed the savings measure with all Democrats and one Republican — Connie Mack of Florida — opposing it.
The proposal is being pushed by conservatives who say it’s high time the government rein in spending and reform wasteful programs.
But Mr. Mack’s opposition is an example of the problem House Republican leaders are facing as different members object to various provisions in the massive bill. Mr. Mack opposes a House Resources Committee provision that would generate revenue by allowing oil drilling close to the Florida coast. He is trying to persuade leaders to take it out when the bill gets to the floor, expected next week.
Democrats said the bill cruelly cuts programs for the poor, ranging from Medicaid to student loans.