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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Tuesday, November 28, 2006

(right) The court room for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Portland, Ore., is in the historic Pioneer Courthouse.

The U.S. Federal Court System, which handles cases involving federal laws and inter-state matters, is broken down i
nto 94 court districts—at least one in every state, plus one in the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. There are also district courts in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The districts are organized into 11 circ
uits which hear appeals of those cases. Oregon, along with California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii, is part of the Ninth Circuit. (The District of Columbia and the Federal Circuit are not included in the 11 circuits.)

The Ninth Circuit has a reputation of being the most liberal in the country. Among its decisions was the determination that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance were unconstitutional, setting off a national uproar in 2002. (That decision came just after I moved to Nevada and just before the Fourth of July. The people at Elko's Independence Day celebrations made a point of shouting the "under God" part that year.)

With 28 judgeships, the Ninth is the largest circuit. It hears cases for about a week per month in Pasadena, San Francisco, and Seattle. Cases are heard in Portland for about a week every other month. They also hear cases in Anchorage and Honolulu a couple of times per year.

The court in Portland is in the historic Pioneer Courthouse, which I wrote about in a previous posting. The building was built between 1869 and 1875, and had a major expansion added in 1902-05. Approval was given to tear the building down in 1939 (to build a larger Federal Building), but the money was never appropriated for the construction. It also went a major seismic retrofit and restoration in 2002-05. The building is the oldest extant Federal Building in the Pacific Northwest. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

(left) The octagonal cupola atop Pioneer Courthouse gives a wonderful view of Pioneer Courthouse Square and other features of downtown Portland.