People For the American Way

Death of a Ninth Circuit Judge

The death several days ago of Robert Beezer, an 83 year-old senior judge on the Ninth Circuit, highlights the lengths to which semi-retired judges have been going to help ease the crushing caseload burden on their fellow jurists. The LA Times reports on his lifetime of accomplishments and contributions to the legal profession. It also reports:

Like most of the senior judges, Beezer continued to hear cases long after resigning his active judgeship in 1996. As his eyesight failed in recent years, he turned to computerized text-to-audio translation technology to keep up with the voluminous reading required for each case, the court said in its report on his death. …

Beezer’s death now drops to 18 the number of semi-retired senior judges [in the Ninth Circuit] who help shoulder caseloads twice that of the other 12 federal appeals courts.

Just how bad is the caseload crisis? Senator Dianne Feinstein talked about it last year when she was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Paul Watford to fill one of the four vacancies on the Ninth Circuit.

I would also like to note that the Ninth Circuit is in serious need of new judges. It has 1,453 cases per three-judge panel. That’s by far the highest in the nation, and more than 400 more than the next highest court. Each of the court’s vacancies is a judicial emergency.

The term Sen. Feinstein used – “a judicial emergency” – isn’t hyperbole. It’s a formal category based on caseload used by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to describe those areas where Americans’ timely access to justice is at risk. Across the country, there are 34 vacancies that are judicial emergencies, four of which are empty circuit court seats in the Ninth Circuit.

Beezer was the sixth Ninth Circuit judge to die in little over a year. The vacancies there need to be filled.


Dianne Feinstein, judicial nominations, judicial vacancies, Lower Federal Courts, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Paul Watford