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WASHINGTON - In the face of Senate opposition, a GOP plan to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was dropped from a budget bill that passed the House early Monday.

House Republicans who contend the nation's largest federal appeals court has gotten too big to be effective included legislation splitting it into two entities in the House version of the deficit-trimming bill, passed last month.

But opponents of the breakup alleged political motives, contending Republicans were annoyed by 9th Circuit rulings, including a 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

The 9th Circuit covers nine states with about 54 million people and has 28 judgeships. The circuit with the next-largest number of judgeships is the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, with 17.

Senators led by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., opposed including the 9th Circuit split in the budget bill. She threatened to use procedural objections to block it if it got to the Senate floor.

House and Senate negotiators left the breakup out of the final version of the $39.7 billion federal budget bill that passed the House 212-206 and was expected to get a Senate vote later in the day.

"The plan to split the 9th Circuit was a politically driven attempt to intrude on the constitutionally mandated independence of the federal judiciary," Feinstein said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, also had weighed in against the split.

The plan by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., would have created a 9th Circuit covering California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and a new 12th Circuit covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Arizona.

"The chairman is disappointed that the opposition of some in the Senate has again delayed this needed administrative restructuring of the 9th Circuit," said Sensenbrenner spokesman Jeff Lungren.

"He's going to continue to push it because it's necessary, because the 9th Circuit has become too big, too unwieldy, too cumbersome, and a realignment would allow for a better, more efficient administration of justice," Lungren said.

Feinstein said California judges would have born disproportionately heavy case loads under the reconstituted 9th Circuit.

Most judges on the circuit opposed the split, which has long been a goal of some in the GOP. The Republican-led House passed a 9th Circuit split measure last year but it didn't get a Senate vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the issue.

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