Saturday, December 13, 2008

Republican Domination of U.S. Appellate Courts

The Washington Post reports that George W. Bush has been enormously successful at placing his picks on federal appeals courts and that has led to Republican domination of most of the nation's judicial circuits. The article begins by focusing on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Michigan, noting a particular case where the full panel of judges overruled a ruling by a smaller appeals court panel:
Prosecutors appealed to all of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. And the full court, dominated by appointees of President Bush and other Republican presidents, reversed the initial appellate ruling, saying the evidence presented by prosecutors was sufficient to merit Arnold's conviction.

Other criminal defendants, including some on death row, remain in federal prisons for the same reason: After initial appellate verdicts that their convictions or sentences were unjust, the last word came from Bush's judicial picks on the 6th Circuit. Acting in cooperation with other Republican appointees on the court, they have repeatedly organized full-court rehearings to overturn rulings by panels dominated by Democratic appointees.
When the full slate of judges in a judicial circuit agree to hear a case and possibly overturn the ruling handed down by the normal panel of three judges that hear such appeals, this is called an en banc rehearing. The numbers that demonstrate just how solidly Bush has packed the courts with Republican judges are pretty compelling:
After Bush's eight years in office, Republican-appointed majorities firmly control the outcomes in 10 of these courts, compared with seven after President Bill Clinton's tenure. They also now share equal representation with Democratic appointees on two additional courts.
That's out of a total of 13 judicial circuits (12 regular regional circuits plus the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears special national cases). In 2001, the political breakdown of the nation's appeals court was about even, with 77 judges appointed by Democrats, 74 by Republicans and 27 vacancies. The current breakdown is 66 Democrats, 102 Republicans and 11 vacancies.

A WaPo investigation showed that over the last five years, out of 28 cases where an en banc appeal of a ruling handed down by a primarily Democratic panel of judges was granted, the right leaning 6th circuit, reversed 17 of those rulings.

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