The 9TH Circuit Court of Appeals has long been perceived as a maverick court flaunting a judicial philosophy of liberal leanings and loose interpretation of the law. Take the court's now-infamous 2002 ruling in favor of a Sacramento, Calif., dad who objected to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance at his daughter's school. The case, Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al, created a media and Internet blitzkrieg. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the decision on appeal, a ruling that--if you believe popular discourse--is par for the course in reprimands of 9th Circuit decisions.
In fact, a 2004 study from the Center for Individual Freedom that examines statistical data from the past four Supreme Court terms and various 9th Circuit cases since 1994, states that, "Based on a variety of criteria, the 9th Circuit is definitively the most reversed federal appellate court in the country and requires far more attention from the Supreme Court than any other inferior court."
Perhaps the more important issue to consider is that the 9th Circuit hears many cutting-edge cases in developing areas of corporate law, such as Internet and high-tech issues, environmentalism, and foreign business.
Stellman Keehnel, a partner at Gray Cary in Seattle, agrees the unique cases contribute to the circuit's individualist reputation, but thinks left-leaning judges also figure into the stats. "It is possible," he says, "that people who practice on the West Coast may have a greater inclination to question established precedent than people elsewhere. Look at the creativity rooted in the West: there's Silicon Valley and businesses such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!. There is no reason this independence will not also be true in the judicial areas. There are many times when the 9th's willingness to look afresh at
"This is what makes law exciting," Keehnel says. "Where would the fun be in law if no one were ever testing new theories? It can be disconcerting to companies that want stable rules and not experience change, but really, who wants to be bored his whole life?"