Northern California Record

Friday, February 21, 2020

Professor agrees with L.A. Times column that 9th Circuit seems more centric

By Robert Lawson | Oct 13, 2016

General court 4

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Times opinion piece written by Ben Feuer describes the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as the court "conservatives love to hate."   

The court has been dubbed the "9th Circus" by conservative talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. There have been other pseudo-names for the court, as pointed out in the op-ed piece, by bloggers and other media members, politicians and conservatives. But is the court moving from very far left more toward the center? As it turns out, President Barack Obama's appointed judges appear to be far more centrist than those that were appointed by President James Carter back in the 1070s, many of whom are or are approaching senior status or retirement, Feuer wrote.

Those on "Carter's Court" are among a 44-judge court, the largest in the country. Groups often stage efforts to break up the large court that is based in San Francisco, which is often described by conservatives as a haven for liberals and leftist values, the columnist wrote.

So as Obama's continued criticism from conservatives as being far too liberal piles up, they do not seem to show his ultra-leftist ways when it comes to court judge appointments on the 9th Circuit, Feuer stated in his column. Carter's appointments through the 1980s resulted in significant judicial activism coming from the 9th Circuit Court. 

University of Minnesota political science professor Timothy Johnson, who is an expert in Supreme Court oral arguments and decision making, and executive/judiciary relations, agrees that there appears to be a centrist movement of the court after Obama's reign in the White House. 

"This is quite true, to be honest," Johnson told the Northern California Record. "It does not mean the 9th is becoming conservative, but Mr. Obama's appointees are absolutely more centrist than their predecessors."

Johnson offered three lines of reasoning for this.

"First, the justices who are retiring were so liberal on so many issues that it is quite impossible to appoint replacements that could be as liberal." he said. "Second, President Obama is, himself, more moderate than President Carter who, the article rightly points out, appointed so many of the judges on the 9th. Indeed, the political science standard for measuring ideology is with nominate scores. On those scores, Mr. Obama is measured quite moderately compared to the liberal President Carter."  

Johnson also threw in a political and legislative metric. 

"Third, even if President Obama wanted more liberal judges he would have had a hard time doing so facing a Republican Senate," Johnson said. "Bottom line is, he had to compromise."

The professor said a political shift toward a more conservative court won't be significant. 

"There will probably not be a huge shift in the U.S," Johnson said. "While there may be fewer far left decisions that historically come from the 9th, these new appointees are not conservative. They may be on some issues -- such as criminal rights -- but on many other issues, they will still slant left. This is akin to the two Clinton and two Obama appointees on SCOTUS."

One element in the op-ed that Feuer discussed was increased appointments by Obama of criminal prosecutors and how their approach to law practice differs with other types of lawyers and judges. 

"There will be some impact, but it will not be huge because, while this is the largest circuit, it is simply a circuit," Johnson said. "It is bound by precedent set by SCOTUS. And, while the philosophies are quite stark between say, a Scalia and a Brennan, the judges who Mr. Obama will place on the 9th will not have such stark differences. We will simply see some more moderate decisions -- and that is indeed something court watchers in the 9th will not be used to seeing."

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Organizations in this Story

University of MinnesotaU.S. Supreme CourtWhite HouseLos Angeles TimesU.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit