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US chief justice outlines ideas to ease high court's caseload

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The nation's top jurist - Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States - is declaring a judicial ''disaster area:'' It stems from the case overload in the US Supreme Court.

He proposes a two-pronged attack to slow the flood of litigation that now flows to the nation's highest tribunal:

* Immediate creation by Congress of a special, temporary US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to relieve the Supreme Court by deciding certain statutory cases and resolving conflicts between lower federal courts.

* The formation of a Tripartite Commission, composed of members appointed by all three branches of government, to conduct a broad study of court structure and offer recommendations for reform.

In remarks prepared for delivery late Sunday before the American Bar Association's midwinter meeting here, the chief justice pointed out that the court's caseload had increased 270 percent in the last three decades. The Burger court handles more than 5,300 cases a year and issues 140 signed opinions (double what the high court did 30 years ago) annually.

Mr. Burger blames Congress, at least in part, for this litigation explosion. He explains that lawmakers have enacted ''more than 100 statutes creating new claims, entitlements, and causes of action.'' He also says there are many complex cases today, particularly in specialized areas such as taxation and oil and gas claims, where there are few precedents to guide the court.

The chief justice's recommendation for a special temporary appeals panel stops just short of proposals by two prestigious legal study groups - the Freund Committee and the Hruska Commission - for a permanent intermediate federal court of appeals that would handle cases designated to it by the US Supreme Court.

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