The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court: Is There Trouble Brewing?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court appear to be at odds in their ideologies and concepts of judicial protocol. The Ninth Circuit, which has the largest jurisdiction of any federal appeals Court, covers nine Western states, including California, and is believed to be very liberal.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Supreme Court reversed or vacated 19 of the 26 decisions it looked at from the Ninth Circuit this judicial term. In all, the Ninth Circuit provided 30% of the cases the Supreme Court chose to hear.

The Supreme Court sent a lot of “piques” to the Ninth Circuit and particularly to Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who is seen by analysts as one of the main targets of the justices. For example, in restoring Steven Jackson’s conviction for raping a 72-year-old-woman, the high court called the Ninth Circuit’s decision “as inexplicable as it is unexplained.”

Reinhardt said he did not feel personally reprimanded because the justices often employ strong language. “It would be easy not to get reversed if you just tried to guess what five of nine were going to say about the case,” he said. “If you follow the way it is, before they change it, you’re going to get reversed.”

According to Barry McDonald, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University, the Ninth Circuit is being watched and monitored closely by the Supreme Court because it is largely democratic, with 59% of the judges having been appointed by democratic presidents. “The Supreme Court has five justices with a conservative bent, so it’s not surprising that the value-laden rulings from the Ninth Circuit often clash with the conservative majority of the Supreme Court” said McDonald.

But because of its size, the Ninth Circuit also provides the Supreme Court with a lot of cases and a wide range of issues. The region the Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction over is very diverse in terms of immigration issues, inmates’ habeas corpus petitions, environmental disputes, and employment law issues.

This contentious relationship might give a new argument to those who wish to split the Ninth Circuit into two different circuits. This idea was brought before Congress for the first time in 1993. In March 2007, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Tomas testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee and the consensus among the justices of the Supreme Court was that the Ninth Circuit was too large and should be split.