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‘Temporary’ Emergency Court Still at Work 15 Years Later

May 11, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The word temporary doesn’t necessarily mean temporary in the federal bureaucracy.

The Temporary Emergency Court of Appeals, a creature of the Nixon administration, was supposed to be a short-lived appellate panel to develop expertise on the Economic Stabilization Act. But more than 15 years after its creation, the temporary court is still in business.

TECA was created in 1971 to adjudicate cases arising from the Nixon administration’s wage-price control program enacted the previous year.

Now, Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have introduced legislation to abolish TECA and transfer its functions to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

In introducing the bill, Hatch said the purpose of TECA was ″to create one appellate court which would develop expertise and provide uniformity in a complicated, narrow subject area.″

″At this time, however, the emergency giving rise to the creation of TECA has ended and the caseload of the court has dropped considerably,″ he said.

As of this year, Hatch said, there are only 21 cases pending before the court. There were 30 cases pending in 1986, he said, and 42 in 1985.

The estimates are that TECA, if maintained, would handle no more than 30 cases per year at an approximate annual cost of $144,000.

Cynthia Dykes, the court’s clerk, said in an interview that she did not know how many cases were before the court. She said some people had estimated there were 300 cases before U.S. district courts which could reach TECA for adjudication.

Including herself, Ms. Dykes said TECA has three employees and is trying to fill a fourth position.

A woman answering the telephone in the office of U.S. Circuit Court Judge J. Skelly Wright, who serves as TECA’s chief judge, said he would not discuss the legislation. There currently are 23 part-time TECA judges located around the country, some semi-retired, who serve without extra pay, including Wright. They normally meet once a year to hear oral arguments.

TECA was modeled after an earlier court, the Emergency Court of Appeals, which handled wage and price control programs of World War II and the Korean conflict. After the original litigation involving the Nixon wage-price controls was finally completed, TECA was given new work.

Its current docket consists of overcharge cases flowing out of the emergency petroleum allocation act of 1973, which, among other things, set price ceilings on various kinds of oil. Like the wage-price programs, these controls also have been lifted, but the work of the court goes on nevertheless.

The court serves as the ultimate arbiter, except for the Supreme Court, of unsettled cases usually heard initially by the Energy Department’s Office of Hearings and Appeals and then reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Although the number remains high, the record 58 decisions in 1982 was more than triple the level for 1977, the slowest year.

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