7 Things You Need to Know About the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Baffled by the judicial complexities of the travel ban case? We'll help you bring order to the court.

Richard H. Chambers United States Court of Appeals, Pasadena, CA
Richard H. Chambers United States Court of Appeals, Pasadena, CA

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has drawn significant attention as it decides whether to sustain federal judge James L. Robart’s temporary restraining order on President Trump’s travel ban last week. The appeals court panel is expected to make a decision within a few days, and if it decides in favor of Robart, the Justice Department will likely appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The panel consists of Judge Richard R. Clifton, appointed by George W. Bush, Judge Michelle T. Friedland, appointed by Barack Obama, and William Cameron Canby, Jr., appointed by Jimmy Carter.

There are 13 courts of appeals in the U.S., and they each hear cases that are appealed from their respective district courts. Cases that are appealed further can be heard by the Supreme Court.

Here are 7 facts about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals:

  1. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the largest of the 13 appellate courts in the country. The Ninth Circuit currently holds 29 judgeships with four vacancies. The next-most populous jurisdiction is that of the Fifth Circuit, which maintains 17 judgeships.
  1. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was established by Congress in 1891. Since then the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit — originally six states — has expanded to include more Western states. Its jurisdiction includes California, Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Hawaii, Territory of Guam, and Territory of Northern Mariana Islands. The upsurges in populations of these states over the 20th century have led to more and more authorizations for judgeships in the Ninth Circuit.
  1. The great size of the Ninth Circuit has been cause for many congressional proposals to split the circuit in various ways. The most recent such effort involves a bill proposal from Arizona senators to form a new circuit.
  1. Of all the circuit courts, the Ninth Circuit has the highest percentage of rulings reversed or vacated by the Supreme Court.
  1. Nicknamed the “Hollywood Circuit,” the court hears a number of celebrity cases. In 1993, “Wheel of Fortune” star Vanna White won a case against Samsung for appropriation of her likeness when they featured an ad of a robot turning letters.
  1. Several highly publicized cases seen by the Ninth Circuit have been the cause for conservative criticism of the court. In the 2004 case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, the Ninth Circuit found the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 2011, the court upheld the order against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
  1. Of the sitting judges in the Ninth Circuit, 18 have been appointed by Democratic presidents and 7 by Republicans. At one time 15 out of 23 sitting judges were President Carter’s appointments, but only one of his appointed judges still remains.

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