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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over the federal courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It often has the last word on questions of federal law, so it’s imperative that the court is staffed with fair-minded judges who uphold the rule of law and treat all litigants equally. Unfortunately, a series of far-right appointments by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have turned the Fifth Circuit into perhaps the most activist, politically-motivated Circuit Court of Appeals in the country. Ten of its 15 active judges were appointed by Republican Presidents, and its decisions often reflect a concerted effort by Republican administrations to impose a conservative policy agenda through the courts.
This heavy imbalance has favored powerful special interests—such as massive corporations, and, in particular, Big Oil companies—at the expense of ordinary Americans. One recent and telling example borders on self-parody: After a group of Hurricane Katrina victims received a favorable ruling from a three-judge panel in their suit against polluter energy companies,1 the court decided to hear the case “en banc”—meaning that the panel decision would be vacated and the court’s full roster of judges would decide the case. But because ties to the energy industry forced so many judges to recuse themselves, there weren’t enough judges left to hear the appeal. The result was that the hurricane victims lost without ever getting their day in court. Their favorable panel decision had already been set aside, and the lost quorum meant that the trial court’s decision—which sided with the energy companies—was reinstated.2
The court’s decisions have also eroded civil rights, marginalized criminal defendants, and demonstrated insensitivity and even outright hostility toward racial minorities and women. Just this past week, a panel of three Republican appointees—Judges Priscilla Owen, Catharina Haynes, and Jennifer Elrod—voted to reinstate a Texas law that places unnecessary, burdensome requirements on abortion providers, and that is already forcing clinics to close down.3
In this report, the court’s 15 active judges and their judicial records are profiled in order of seniority.