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Judiciary Opposes Involvement with WTO Commission

The Judicial Conference of the United States opposes Senate legislation that would authorize the President to appoint five federal court of appeals judges to serve on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Review Commission.

Without question, international trade issues are of substantial importance to the United States and will become increasingly so in the future..., Judge Stanley S. Harris told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing today.

As important, however, is the ability of the federal Judiciary to resolve disputes within its jurisdiction justly, efficiently, and speedily. The Judiciary's challenge to fulfill these responsibilities over the next decade is particularly acute, Harris told the Senate Committee.

A U.S. district court judge in Washington D.C., Harris testified on behalf of the Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for the federal courts. The Senate committee is considering S. 16, the WTO Dispute Settlement Review Commission Act. The legislation is an outgrowth on last year's Uruguay Round Agreement Act, Pub.L. 103-465, which formed the WTO.

Harris told the Senate committee that the responsibilities under S. 16 of conducting a thorough review of the record and findings of the WTO trade dispute resolution panels composed of international experts could require a substantial commitment of time by Commission members during their five to eight year terms.

While the appointment of five federal circuit judges to the Commission would appear to divert a relatively small percentage of the existing judgeships, the dramatic increase in the cases per judge over recent years indicates that an impact may be felt. For example, in 1970 there were approximately 170 appeals per judgeship. By 1993 and 1994, the number of appeals per judgeship had grown to 298 and 292 respectively. It has been projected that by the year 2000, the number of appeals filed in the U.S. courts of appeals will almost double from 48,815 in 1994 to 84,800 in 2000.

Harris noted that the Judicial Conference was not taking a position on whether S. 16, if enacted into law, could survive a constitutional challenge. He suggested, however, that the Senate committee may wish to consider issues relating to the President's authority over the Judicial Branch and the requirement that an Article III judge discharge duties other than exercising the judicial power of the United States.

Harris suggested that a better approach may be to establish a Commission that is composed of private parties or former judges.

The Executive Branch and Legislative Branch will be best served if the Commission members are either already well-versed in the subjects of international law and trade regulation instruments and procedures, or can devote undivided attention to becoming so. The Judicial Branch will be best served if it is able to devote 100 percent of its resources to the resolution of disputes within its jurisdiction, said Harris.

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