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Congressman Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Calif.) is the chairman of the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and Judicial Administration. A former state legislator, Moorhead has represented northern Los Angeles County for 12 terms.
Q: After 13 years as the ranking member on the House subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the federal courts, you now have taken over as the chair. What are some of the changes in style, approach, and issues we are likely to see when comparing you to Bill Hughes and his predecessor, Bob Kastenmeier?
A: You are correct that I have served as the ranking member of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee since 1982. Up until 1990, Bob Kastenmeier (D-Wis.) was the chairman of the subcommittee, and from 1990-94, it was Bill Hughes (D-N.J.) Both Bob and Bill were excellent chairmen, and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve with them. I think that they both took a very active interest in the federal courts, which is something I plan to continue doing as chairman. Overall, I do not anticipate that you will see any major changes in the way the subcommittee conducts business. Its history has always been one of bipartisanship with an emphasis on reaching a consensus on the various issues when possible. This is what I am striving for in the 104th Congress. As you know, some of the important elements of the Contract with America passed through this subcommittee. I don't expect any great surprises this Congress. As a matter of fact, the Judiciary Committee and its subcommittees have published a plan for the issues over which they hope to exercise their oversight responsibilities this Congress. I think that all involved will find this to be a useful and fair approach.
Q: Your work as a member of the Federal Courts Study Committee has helped you develop a well-informed and broad understanding of the operation of the U.S. courts. Do you have a general impression of how successfully the nation's courts operate today?
A: Since you reference the Federal Courts Study Committee, I would just like to note that serving on that committee under the able leadership of Judge Joseph Weis (3d Cir.) was a very positive experience for me and one that increased my awareness and sensitivity to many of the problems facing the federal courts. The committee performed a valuable service and a number of its recommendations have been enacted into law. I think on balance, the federal Judiciary has done an admirable job of coping with a caseload that certainly shows no signs of abating. That is not to say that there are not significant problems, such as long delays for civil cases in many judicial districts and the costly nature of the system in many respects. I think Chief Justice Rehnquist took an important step in addressing many of these problems when he established the Judicial Conference Committee on Long Range Planning. The courts study committee had encouraged this step. I eagerly await the receipt of the final version of the long range plan. It will give us some indication of the health of the federal courts and the areas needing improvement.
Q: You mentioned that the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property has put together an oversight plan for the 104th Congress. What are some of the key aspects of this plan that may be of interest to the Judiciary?
A: The Subcommittee's oversight plan for the 104th Congress does include several activities that are directly related to the federal Judiciary. For instance, it is the subcommittee's intention to hold an oversight hearing on the federal judicial branch and the Administrative Office sometime this spring. As part of that hearing, or possibly at a separate hearing, the subcommittee will want to examine the activities of the Federal Judicial Center. Additionally, the subcommittee may hold an oversight hearing on the Rules Enabling Act as well as a hearing to explore how the 20 court-annexed arbitration programs are working with a view towards expanding arbitration. Of course there are other issues that could come up in the next year and a half, but generally I believe that the oversight plan will serve as a road map for the areas the Judiciary Committee and its subcommittees hope to cover.
Q: You have served on the Judiciary Committee for a number of years with Representative Pat Schroeder (D-Col.). Now Congresswoman Schroeder will be the ranking member of your subcommittee. What type of working relationship do you expect to have?
A: I am very pleased to have Congresswoman Schroeder as the ranking member of the subcommittee. While she did not serve on the subcommittee last Congress, she has served with distinction on this subcommittee in past congresses and has always been a valued member. I think she would agree with me that we have already established a good, solid working relationship in the first few months of the 104th Congress. I am optimistic that together we can accomplish much this Congress. This subcommittee has a tradition of bipartisan cooperation. Over the years, many bills have passed through this subcommittee with the solid backing of Republicans and Democrats. I expect Congresswoman Schroeder and I can build on this tradition. I am equally optimistic that my chairman and longtime friend, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), will enjoy a similar relationship with Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.).
Q: One area you mentioned in your written oversight plan is courthouse construction. Your subcommittee has exercised no oversight in this area for more than 30 years. Why has this area become a part of the subcommitteeÕs jurisdiction?
A: I guess you could say that the subcommittee's interest in courthouse construction is prompted, in part, by the tenor of the times. You have a situation in Congress where we are struggling to square every dollar in the federal budget, and the Judiciary is not more immune from that process than anyone else. In addition, you have a recent report that originated in the Senate that is very critical of several courthouse construction projects. The courthouse construction process has been the topic of much discussion in recent years, and I believe that this subcommittee can have an important role in helping to assure that citizens have adequate access to our justice system and that courthouses are built with a keen eye on their ultimate cost. I believe that everyone involved in the process of courthouse construction--the Congress, GSA, and the Judiciary-- bear responsibility for assuring that our tax dollars are spent wisely and that when courthouses are built they are actually needed and not just pork barrel projects to bring federal money back to districts. Just as important, GSA must take advantage of fast- changing market conditions to obtain the best prices and the Judiciary must do its part by adhering to the design standards adopted by the Judicial Conference. I believe this subcommittee can help bring additional discipline to the process, and I look forward to working with the judges in this regard.
Q: Your subcommittee has expressed its long-standing devotion to improving the delivery of justice by the federal and state courts. A major key to addressing this issue rests in the proper allocation of workload among the two court systems. Will the subcommittee consider the issue of the federalization of the workload of the courts?
A: The answer is yes. As we are all aware, there has been a strong trend in Congress to federalize what have traditionally been state issues. This is especially true in the criminal justice area, where, for example, Congress has seen fit to make carjacking a federal offense as well as giving the federal courts jurisdiction over fathers who shirk child support and then cross state lines. I recall last year when Judge Stanley Marcus (S.D. Fla.) testified before the subcommittee, he pointed out that if present caseload trends continue in the federal courts, the volume of litigation under current workload standards would require an enormous increase in the number of district judges and circuit judges, transforming the existing nature of the federal judicial system virtually beyond recognition. Clearly, this is an important issue. My tenure on this subcommittee and the discussions I have had over the years with both the federal and state judges in my district in California certainly have sensitized me to the implications of federalization.
Q: The federal courts cannot influence their workload. As a result, there are few areas of the judicial branch appropriation that could withstand any significant reduction. Do you see a role for the authorizing committees in assuring that the Judiciary receives the necessary resources to carry out the duties it is assigned by Congress?
A: There is a definite role for the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property to play when it comes to the judicial branch appropriation. Over the course of the last several years, I've joined with first, Bob Kastenmeier, and most recently Bill Hughes, in writing to our counterparts on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary to advocate for a fully funded Judiciary. Clearly the subcommittee can and has played an important role in advancing the budgetary needs of the federal Judiciary. As the need arises, I certainly am prepared to communicate to the appropriations committee's new chairman, Harold Rogers (R- Ky.). I recognize that anytime Congress assigns new responsibilities to the federal courts, necessary resources also must be provided. At the same time, we all must understand that we are operating in an era of fiscal austerity. The difficulty Congress faces is trying to reconcile these two facts.
Q: The House's legislative agenda has been driven by the Contract with America. What types of issues that aren't part of the contract are likely to receive serious consideration by the House this year?
A: I think once the House completes the Contract With America, it will begin the very difficult task of cutting spending. So I think after these first 100 days, the primary focus will be on the budget process and appropriations bill. Beyond that, some of the possible issues I've heard mentioned are welfare reform, immigration reform, a farm bill, a telecommunications bill, and a superfund bill. In addition, I understand that the Judiciary Committee has agreed to hold hearings on various gift-ban proposals. I am pleased that our subcommittee could contribute to the fulfillment of the Contract with America. For sometime
I have been concerned with how we can make the nation's civil justice system more viable for all Americans. The Common Sense Legal Reform Act is a significant step in the right direction. I believe it will be a very active and productive Congress.
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