Sen. Chuck Grassley has been promoting a plan that would strip three currently open seats from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a transparent attempt to prevent President Obama from being able to fill them and leaving conservatives in the majority in that circuit. But Judge Timothy Tymkovich, the very conservative judge who heads the judicial panel that deals with issues of judge’s workload, clearly thinks that’s a bad idea.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the second most powerful court in the country, and it is currently a bastion of conservative skepticism to environmental laws, workplace protections and similar laws. Grassley proposed eliminating three open seats from this court — a proposal that would ensure that the court remains staunchly conservative. Rather than arguing directly that three seats should be stripped from a powerful court to keep that court in Republican hands, however, Grassley offered the rationale that the DC Circuit has a lower caseload — at least in terms of raw numbers — while the Second and Eleventh Circuits both have high caseloads. Thus, Grassley’s proposal would not just eliminate seats from the DC Circuit, it would add one seat each to the Second and Eleventh.
Judge Tymkovich, however, was at the Senate in his capacity as chair of the federal judicial committee that evaluates which federal courts are truly in need of additional judgeships — i.e. which courts are overworked and which courts are underworked. Tymkovich’s committee did not recommend eliminating a single seat — much less three — from the DC Circuit. Nor did it recommend that seats be added to the Second and Eleventh Circuits, as Grassley has proposed. It did recommend adding two federal appellate seats, but its recommendation was that these seats should be added to the Sixth and Ninth Circuits. In other words, a neutral panel of judges led by a staunchly conservative Bush appointee evaluated the judiciary’s needs and came up with numbers that in no way resemble Grassley’s recommendation.
Grassley’s highly dishonest argument for his plan is that the D.C. Circuit handles fewer cases than some other appeals courts. Which is true, but irrelevant. The D.C. Court of Appeals handles very complex regulatory and national security cases that require far more research and evaluation than the kinds of routine cases heard by the other circuits. And a conservative judge just punctured that balloon full of distortion.