Falwell wrongly labeled 9 th Circuit Court "the most overturned of all the appellate courts"

››› ››› JOE BROWN

In his televised Sunday Sermon November 6, Baptist pastor and Moral Majority Coalition founder and chairman Rev. Jerry Falwell advanced the misleading claim that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is "the most overturned of all the appellate courts." But during its 2004-05 term, the Supreme Court reversed higher percentages of decisions appealed from three other Circuit Courts. Moreover, during the previous three terms the 9th Circuit's reversal rate was almost identical to the national average for federal circuit courts.

During its 2004-05 term, the Supreme Court reversed 84 percent of the cases it chose to hear from appeals of 9th Circuit decisions, compared to a 73 percent average reversal rate for all circuit courts of appeals.* But the high court reversed 100 percent of the decisions it heard from the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals.* Moreover, as Media Matters for America has documented, the 9th Circuit's reversal rate was slightly lower than the national average for all circuit courts during the 2003-04 Supreme Court term (76 percent for 9th Circuit vs. 77 percent nationally), and only slightly higher than the national average during the 2002-03 term (75 percent for 9th Circuit vs. 73 percent nationally) and the 2001-02 term (76 percent for 9th Circuit vs. 75 percent nationally). In previous years, the 9th Circuit's reversal rate has exceeded the national average, most notably during the 1996-97 term, when the court's 95 percent reversal rate had exceeded the national average of 71 percent and "earned the Western circuit [the 9th Circuit] its reputation as the nation's 'most reversed,' " according to a July 3, 2004, Sacramento Bee article.

While it is true that the Supreme Court has reversed more decisions by the 9th Circuit than by any other circuit court in terms of numbers alone, the 9th Circuit has a far bigger caseload than any other circuit (including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit). During its 2004-05 term, the Supreme Court reversed 16 decisions by the 9th Circuit, out of 19 cases from the circuit.* During the same term, the Supreme Court reversed seven decisions from the appellate court with the second highest caseload, the 5th Circuit, out of a total of 11 appeals it heard from that circuit.*

Falwell also labeled the 9th Circuit "the number one court of wackos and idiots in the land," and accused it of "[doing] some terrible things in recent times," specifically referencing the court's 2002 ruling that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was unconstitutional because the words "under God" violated the constitutional separation of church and state. (The Supreme Court subsequently reversed the 9th Circuit's ruling, stating that the plaintiff, the father of an elementary school student, lacked standing to sue his daughter's school because he was a non-custodial parent.)

Falwell also falsely claimed that the judges of the 9th Circuit are "[a]ppointed by governors and by federal officials." They are, in fact, like all federal appellate judges, nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Media Matters has previously noted attempts by Falwell to dismiss the 9th Circuit as a left-leaning court that "[gets its] rulings overturned almost every time." Falwell also called for "doing away" with the 9th Circuit Court, an apparent reference to attempts by Republican lawmakers to split up the 9th Circuit.

From the November 6 Sunday Sermon, broadcast by the Liberty Broadcasting Network:

FALWELL: I'm proud, I'm thankful, I'm grateful to God that I was free-born -- born an American, August 11, 1933 -- and that I've grown up and lived in and raised a family in such a free nation. And it saddens me that in the last 40 years, nine justices, unelected justices, have by majority systematically, categorically began [sic] to throw God out of the public square, eliminate the value of life, born and unborn, and to bring this nation into secularism like Cuba, like Russia, like China -- something that America is not, for we were founded as one nation under God. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals out in California, without question, the number one court of wackos and idiots in the land, has done some terrible things in recent times. Appointed by governors and by federal officials to that post, they are the most overturned of all the appellate courts because of their radical rulings. They have just recently ruled that "under God" makes the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.

*Source: Library of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

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Government, The Judiciary
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