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Obama's D.C. Circuit Picks Likely to Prompt GOP Outcry

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Obama is expected to announce three nominations for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Senate Republicans have said the court is underworked and have tried to reduce the number of judges in the D.C. Circuit.

But it is all but certain to draw strong opposition from Senate Republicans who claim the D.C. Circuit is underworked.

Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has introduced legislation (S 699) that would reduce the size of the D.C. Circuit by three seats.

The bill would eliminate one of the court’s seats and distribute two others to the Courts of Appeal for the 2nd and 11th circuits, which he argues are busier. The legislation is co-sponsored by all of the other GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee, along with moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine, spelling potential trouble for Obama’s new nominees.

Grassley on Monday evening had no initial reaction to the nominees, except to say they aren’t needed.

“The only thing that is controversial [about filling the spots] is that you don’t need any more judges there because they’re only working half as hard as the average of other circuits,” he said.

According to statistics from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the D.C. Circuit had the lowest caseload per authorized judge last year of the 12 circuit courts. But a spokesman for the Administrative Office emphasized that court caseloads tell only a portion of the story and that workload depends often on the kinds of cases that a court hears.

While Grassley’s bill would redistribute two of the court’s seats to the 2nd and 11th circuits, the Judicial Conference, the policy-setting body of the federal courts, has suggested that another court, the 9th Circuit, is the busiest in the nation.

The conference has recommended that the San Francisco-based court receive four new permanent judgeships, a recommendation based on factors including “filings per panel, the mix of cases, the proportion of oral hearings versus submission of briefs, the contributions of senior judges and the geography of the circuit,” according to a spokesman for the federal courts.

Humberto Sanchez and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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