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What is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is a federal court in the United States charged with hearing appellate cases from across the western region of the nation. It is an extremely large and diverse court, and a number of notable cases in US history have worked their way through the Ninth Circuit. As of 2009, 29 judges serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at any given time, with courthouses in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Pasadena to provide multiple venues for hearing trials.

In 1891, an act of Congress created the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals along with other appellate courts to meet the needs of the growing legal system of the United States. These courts hear appeals when members of the public are not satisfied with the outcome of cases in the lower courts. The Ninth Circuit also maintains a bankruptcy court, where a panel of three judges presides over bankruptcy proceedings.

The large area covered by this appellate court makes it challenging to administer. Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana are all part of the region covered by the court, as are the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Territories. This makes for a very diverse region in terms of the makeup of cases. Judges are drawn from all these regions and may have varying interpretations of the law, sometimes resulting in conflict during decision making.

Judges who serve on the Ninth Circuit handle everything from Hollywood high drama to questions of rights for Alaska Natives. Cases from California dominate the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Proposals to split the court to make it easier to manage have been made on a number of occasions, but critics point out that this would inevitably result in a court comprised solely or mostly of cases from California, presenting a potential problem in terms of a skew in the kinds of cases the court would hear.

Like other appellate courts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals makes its decisions public and usually holds public hearings. The court maintains a website where it is possible to access recent court decisions as well as information about the court, including the schedule of upcoming trials. Visitors to the court need to follow basic standards of courtroom decorum, including dressing conservatively, complying with requests from bailiffs, and not being disruptive. Judges can choose to eject individuals from the proceedings if they behave inappropriately.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On Dec 26, 2011

@stl156 - I assume the other court being discussed would be the Fourth Court of Appeals. That is the one that handles cases from Virginia and Washington D.C., so they have to rule on a lot of cases against federal agencies based in Washington.

As far as the way the system works, cases concerning federal laws go to a US District Court. If they are appealed, they go to the local Appellate court, and they have to take all cases according to the Constitution. As far as the Supreme Court goes, though, they can choose which cases they take, since they don't have the time to do everything that gets appealed from the other courts.

If the Supreme Court doesn't take a case, the Appellate decision is the law's new interpretation for every District Court in that circuit. As far as the influence on other circuit courts, though, one circuit's ruling has no effect on how another circuit has to rule. Usually if two Circuit Courts have different opinions on a law, that is a sure way for the Supreme Court to take a look at it.

By stl156 — On Dec 25, 2011

@cardsfan27 - I'm curious what the other circuit would be that might be able to compete with the 9th circuit for importance. I know the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is in Texas. I'm sure they have a lot of cases.

I always forget how the federal court system works. Don't you start out with a district court, and then appeals, and then supreme? Also, does the appeals court get to choose which cases it hears, or is that why they have to have so many justices and different court room locations?

Once the appeals court makes their decisions, how does that get used by the Supreme Court and even other appellate courts? Do the other courts have to abide by their decisions if that court is the first to rule on something?

By cardsfan27 — On Dec 25, 2011

@TreeMan - All US Circuit Court justices are first nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate (assuming there aren't any objections). Once they get their position, they are there for life until they choose to retire. They can be impeached for certain things, but those cases are extremely rare. I don't think I have ever heard of it happening.

As far as cases go, like the article says, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is definitely the first or second most high profile Appeals Court in the United States. If you go to their website, they have a listing of the most recent opinions, and you can search for others.

I know the first time I was exposed to the court was when I was writing my high school senior term paper about music pirating. The Ninth Circuit Court handled the case of the RIAA versus Napster. I know the court has also been involved in a lot of the natural resources controversies constantly going on in California and Oregon.

By TreeMan — On Dec 24, 2011

I always knew the Ninth Circuit Court was big, but didn't realize it covered so much area. I thought there was a different court for the Pacific Northwest states.

How do the judges get elected to the 9th Circuit? What kind of credentials do most of them have, and once they get there, how long do they stay a justice?

If anyone is familiar with the court, I would also be interested to know what high-profile cases the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled on. I have been getting interested in court cases lately and would like to learn more.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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