These days the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals can generally be counted on for issuing decisions that are so far right they're practically left. They've made headlines numerous times in the last three months for their decisions on abortion law alone. There are conservative courts in the United States, but the calling the Fifth Circuit conservative is like calling a unicorn a pony: it's kind of accurate but it couldn't possibly cover the horned grandeur that is the Fifth. It wasn't always thus.
So what is the Fifth Circuit anyway? The Fifth Circuit is a court comprised of 15 active judges based in New Orleans with a jurisdiction covering Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Most of the judges are Southern Republicans, which is a key point here.
Come January, the Fifth Circuit is slated to ramp it up and finally hear cases on Texas court decisions regarding gay marriage and House Bill 2, the law that has forced most of the abortion clinics in the state to close, and with the current court makeup, only the most quixotic of gamblers would try and bet on the Fifth ruling against either. The court has been dragging its feet on actually hearing both of these cases, despite the fact that the odds are good that the Southern Republican block will come down against both issues with the force of the hand of God.
This isn't the first time that a bunch of Southern Republicans made sweeping decisions on this circuit court. The court has been around for a while. It was created by the Evarts Act in 1891 (the act both created the appeals courts and allowed Supreme Court judges to stop actually riding the circuit to hear cases across the country.) The appeals court deals with the appealed cases that have bounced up through the court system. But things didn't really get interesting until a crew of Southern (mostly) Republicans landed on the court.More »