U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-5 to approve a proposal Thursday to reshape the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the largest appeals court in the nation.

The bill, introduced this week by committee member Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, would divide the Ninth Circuit into three regional divisions. A few lawmakers have routinely floated the idea of breaking up the Ninth Circuit, which has the heaviest caseload of U.S. appeals courts, but none have succeeded.

Three Ninth Circuit judges urged lawmakers last year to keep the circuit as it is during testimony before lawmakers on Issa’s subcommittee on the courts, intellectual property and the internet. Those judges were Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, and Judges Carlos Bea and Alex Kozinski. Kozinski resigned last year after facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

Under Issa’s so-called CIRCUIT Act, the circuit would not split up, but would include three regional divisions: a Northern Division consisting of the trial courts in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington’s Eastern and Western districts; a Middle Division comprised of Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands, and California’s Eastern and Northern district courts; and a Southern Division that would include Arizona and the Southern and Central districts of California.

The bill would also create a circuit-wide division, with a chief judge and four judges from each of the newly created regional divisions. This body would hear tax cases, appeals on final agency actions, and decisions on which the regional divisions have split.

The proposal would also add five judgeships, bringing the total number to 34.

“For years, many have called for this court to be divided, but there remains widespread disagreement on how those divisions should be made,” Issa said in a press release.

“By dividing the Ninth Circuit into regional divisions that effectively function as individual appellate courts, we open the door to determining whether a circuit split would be feasible while, at the same time, preserve the current Ninth Circuit as a single appellate court,” he added.

Chief Judge Sidney Thomas submitted a letter to the committee Wednesday opposing the bill, saying it would further stretch the district’s resources.

“Conflicting decisions from the regional divisions would require resolution by the already-overburdened Circuit Division, leading to increased delays for litigants,” Thomas wrote. “Parties who do not prevail in a case, meanwhile, will have an incentive to seek a second opinion from the Circuit Division as a matter of course.”

Read the letter: