NEWT AND THE NINTH CIRCUIT: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says nutty things, but among the nuttiest is his proposal to destroy the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an idea he’s floated for years and reaffirmed in a recent debate. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in 2010, Gingrich invoked the 1802 Judiciary Act, which eliminated sixteen of the thirty-five then-existing federal judgeships. “I am more cautious than Jefferson,” Gingrich said. “I would only abolish the Ninth Circuit Court.”
The Ninth Circuit hears about 12,000 civil, criminal, bankruptcy, immigration and other appeals each year, from California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii, plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands—one of every five federal appellate filings nationwide. Although right-wing politicos decry the Ninth as a paradigm of far-left “judicial activism,” the court’s twenty-nine judges are politically diverse.
Why would Gingrich shutter one of the nation’s most important courts? Because, he says, he is “tired of secular fanatics trying to redesign America in their image.” Of special concern is a 2002 ruling that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the First Amendment. That ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.
Aside from the separation-of-powers questions raised by Gingrich’s threats to judicial independence, it’s difficult to understand how he expects the West to function without a fully staffed federal appeals court—unless he also plans to stop enforcing criminal, immigration and bankruptcy laws (among others).
There is real debate over how best to ensure consistent, efficient access to justice in the West. There have long been proposals to subdivide the Ninth Circuit, as was done with the Fifth Circuit in 1981. But this debate is unrelated to the one Gingrich is instigating. Gingrich’s wild talk about “anti-American,” “dictatorial” judges thus offers a microcosm of the GOP primary: the topics of discussion are serious, the substance anything but. SARA MAYEUX
OCCUPY EDUCATION: “Mic check! MIC CHECK! Let the puppet show begin! LET THE PUPPET SHOW BEGIN!”
The demonstrators who held the floor at a December 14 meeting at Newtown High School in Corona, Queens, were part of Occupy the DOE (Department of Education), veteran teachers, parents and Occupy Wall Street activists who are bringing the language and tactics of OWS to the grassroots fight against neoliberal education reform.
The Panel on Educational Policy (PEP), which convened the Queens meeting, is an illegitimate, undemocratic body that replaced elected school boards when Michael Bloomberg established mayoral control of the school system. It is a parody of a school board: the majority of the panel’s members are appointed by the mayor, and the PEP has never, in all its existence, rejected any of his proposals.