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The Senate Judiciary Committee returns this week to its most reliably entertaining subject: federal appeals court nominations and, in particular, the growing controversy over replacing Judge Stephen Trott on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The burning question is one of geography — namely, is Trott an Idahoan or a Californian? Trott relocated from California to Idaho after joining the court, and Idaho’s two GOP senators, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, want to replace him with Idaho state Judge Randy Smith, who has already been nominated by President George W. Bush. California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein claim Trott’s seat for their state and accuse Idaho of making an unseemly grab for a second spot on the circuit. Of course, the first Idahoan, Boise lawyer William Myers III, was filibustered in 2004 and his nomination is still pending. On Feb. 13 the California senators sent an indignant letter to White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Imagine, they wrote, “if both these seats are assigned to Idaho, Idaho would have 7.2% of the Circuit’s judges, despite having 1.2% of its caseload.” No matter that circuit courts distribute their cases equally among all their judges regardless of where they sit. “We all get the same caseload,” says an exasperated Trott, who spent 17 years in California as a district attorney and a U.S. attorney before going to Washington in 1983 for a five-year stint as a top official in the Reagan Justice Department. “I think this whole thing is ridiculous,” adds Trott, who moved to Idaho in 1988, just after his confirmation. “I’ve owned property in Idaho since 1971. I pulled up stakes completely in California.” Argues Craig: “We’ve had two 9th Circuit judges residing in Idaho for 18 years. I’m fighting for the status quo.” There’s one problem with that argument, notes federal appeals court scholar Sheldon Goldman. “The allocation was for a Californian, and at that time, Trott was considered a Californian. He subsequently moves to another state, but that doesn’t mean the seat goes with him forever. It’s all pretty parochial.” Craig isn’t backing off. “There’s no question Trott was nominated out of California. But he never returned there.” And besides, Craig adds, Bush has already nominated an Idahoan. “That is the power of the presidency.”
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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