The aim of this paper is to discuss the formation, composition, ideological orientation, and recent decisions of the United States court of Appeals for the 5th circuit. Before proceeding with the analysis of the court composition and functioning, I would like to describe the jurisdiction of the U. S. Court of Appeals and its unique place in the hierarchal justice system. First of all, it’s important to note that the US system of justice is based on the notion of federalism, which means that state and federal systems of courts coexist in our country (Benesh, 2002).
US Courts of Appeals, sometimes referred to as circuit courts, belong to the federal court system and represent its mid-level appellate link (Klein, 2002). US federal courts have jurisdiction over both criminal and civil cases. In practice, the system functions like this: ‘The 94 U. S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies’ (U.S. Courts, 2007, para. 1).
As for the jurisdiction of the United States court of Appeals for the 5th circuit, the following districts fall under it: Eastern District of Louisiana, Middle District of Louisiana, Western District of Louisiana, Northern District of Mississippi, Southern District of Mississippi, Eastern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas. As for the composition of the court, it is comprised of seventeen judges, yet at the moment three seats are vacant.
Chief Judge of the Court is Edith Jones. Since the personality of Chief Judge is important for the ideological orientation of the court, it is necessary to briefly discuss the biography of Edith Jones. She was born in 1949 in Philadelphia, PA, got her B. A. degree from Cornell University in 1971 and J. D. degree from University of Texas School of Law in 1974. She had private practice in Houston, Texas from the year 1974 till 1985 (Federal Judicial Center, n/d. ). Then her professional career had a turning-point:
‘Judge Edith Jones was nominated for the Fifth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 at the age of 36. She was on a short list of potential Supreme Court nominees during the administration of the first President Bush’ (Vernon, 2005, para. 14). Since Reagan is believed to be one of the most conservative presidents in U. S. history, Edith Jones’s political ideology can be also characterized as typically conservative. She is an opponent of abortions, advocate of streamlining death penalty, and proponent of laxer gun laws.
Circuit Judges of the United States court of Appeals for the 5th circuit are: Carolyn Dineen King nominated in 1979 by President Carter; E. Grady Jolly nominated in 1982 by President Reagan; W. Eugene Davis nominated in 1983 by President Reagan; Jerry Edwin Smith nominated in 1987 by President Reagan; Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale nominated in 1990 by President G. H. W. Bush; Jacques L. Wiener, Jr. nominated in 1990 by President G. H. W. Bush; Emilio M. Garza nominated in 1991 by President G.
H. W. Bush; Fortunato Benavides nominated in 1994 by President Clinton; Carl E. Stewart nominated in 1994 by President Clinton; James L. Dennis nominated in 1995 by President Clinton; Edith Brown Clement nominated in 2001 by President G. W. Bush; Edward C. Prado nominated in 2003 by President G. W. Bush; and Priscilla Owen nominated in 2005 by President G. W. Bush. Two pending nominations include Leslie H. Southwick and Jennifer W. Elrod, both made by the incumbent President.