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Judicial Conference Seeks New Judgeships To Handle Growing Workloads At All Levels

March 11, 1997

Contact: Karen Redmond, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States today voted to transmit to Congress a request to create new appellate, district, and bankruptcy judgeships. Judges at all three levels are facing rapidly increasing workloads. No new article III judgeships have been created since 1990 and the number of bankruptcy judgeships was last increased in 1992.

The Conference will ask Congress to create 12 permanent and 5 temporary court of appeals judgeships. The 12 regional courts of appeals handled nearly 52,000 new cases in fiscal year 1996, a new all time high. As of March 1, 26 of the 167 authorized appellate judgeships were vacant. The Conference also voted to ask Congress to create three new district court judgeships, in addition to the 33 judgeships approved by the Conference in September 1996. There currently are 67 district court vacancies out of the 647 authorized judgeships. In FY 96, total filings in U.S. district courts reached the highest level in the last ten years.

At its meeting today the Conference approved a process to be incorporated into its routine biennial surveys of judgeship needs that will take into account the possible need to eliminate Article III judgeships or to recommend that vacancies not be filled. The Conference determined that as a matter of policy it will not recommend elimination of judgeships except in circumstances where the situation in a court is unlikely in the foreseeable future to support the need for the current number of judgeships. It is far too difficult to obtain congressional approval of needed judgeships to recommend eliminating positions that may be necessary in the future, if not the present. In identifying courts where it may be appropriate to recommend not filling a vacancy, the Conference will model the approach for Article III judgeships on that currently used for bankruptcy judgeships.

At its session today the Conference also voted to transmit to Congress proposed legislation to create 18 additional bankruptcy judgeships. In 1996 bankruptcy filings for the first time topped 1 million. The 1.1 million bankruptcy petitions filed last year are double the number (507,557) filed a decade ago.

In other action, the Conference:

  • Approved a series of amendments to the U.S. Courts Design Guide, following a year and a half of review by private sector architects, engineers, construction contractors, advisory groups of judges and court staff, and the General Services Administration. Among the amendments are a provision that emphasizes the important role a project's budget, long-term durability, and maintenance costs play in determining the level and type of interior finishes in new courthouses and in renovations; and a provision that encourages the use of and reaffirms the need for shared use of space to all court offices, such as conference and training rooms.
  • As a cost savings measure, strongly encouraged courts to enter into shared facilities arrangements with state and local government, or other entities to reduce space rental and costs.
  • Adopted a policy on courtroom sharing that balances the essential need for judges to have an available courtroom to fulfill their responsibilities with the economic reality of limited resources. The policy provides for one courtroom for each active district court judge. In addition, with regard to senior judges who do not carry caseloads requiring substantial use of a courtroom and visiting judges, the policy sets forth a non-exclusive list of factors for circuit judicial councils to consider when determining the number of courtrooms needed at a facility. Among the factors to be considered is an assessment of workload anticipated to be carried by a senior judge and the number of years a senior judge is likely to carry such a caseload, as well as an evaluation of courtrooms throughout the district. Courts are encouraged to provide for flexible and varied use of courtrooms.
  • Received an update on judicial compensation. Federal judges' salaries have been frozen since 1993. Judge Barefoot Sanders, chair of the Conference's Judicial Branch Committee, reported that Representatives Henry Hyde and John Conyers have introduced H.R. 875 and Senators Orrin Hatch, Patrick Leahy, and others have introduced S. 394. Both bills contain the Conference-endorsed proposal for increasing judges' pay. Specifically, the bill provides for a catch-up pay adjustment of 9.6 percent; delinks judges' pay from the Executive Schedule and congressional pay and links the annual pay adjustment of judges to changes in the rates of pay of the General Schedule; and repeals section 140 of P.L. 97-92, which had provided that no salary increase should be given to judges without specific legislative action.
  • Received a briefing on the Judiciary's Fiscal Year 1998 budget request. Judge John G. Heyburn,II, chair of the Conference's Budget Committee, reported that the Judiciary is requesting the smallest funding increase in 12 years. Over the last 3 years, Congress has increased funding for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the DEA, and INS by an average of 52 percent. During the same time the Judiciary received a 29 percent increase. Judge Heyburn testified on March 6 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee will conduct its hearing for the Judiciary on April 17.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. It is chaired by the Chief Justice of the United States and composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch.

The Judicial Conference members as of March 1997 are Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, presiding; Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella, First Circuit, Chief Judge Joseph L. Tauro, District of Massachusetts; Chief Judge Jon O. Newman, Second Circuit; Chief Judge Peter C. Dorsey, District of Connecticut; Chief Judge Dolores K. Sloviter, Third Circuit; Chief Judge Edward N. Cahn, Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Fourth Circuit; Judge W. Earl Britt, Eastern District of North Carolina; Chief Judge Henry A. Politz, Fifth Circuit; Chief Judge William H. Barbour, Jr.; Southern District of Mississippi, Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., Sixth Circuit; Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., Middle District of Tennessee; Chief Judge Richard A. Posner, Seventh Circuit; Chief Judge Michael M. Mihm, Central District of Illinois; Chief Judge Richard S. Arnold, Eighth Circuit; Judge Donald E. O'Brien, Northern District of Iowa; Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr., Ninth Circuit; Chief Judge Lloyd D. George, District of Nevada; Chief Judge Stephanie K. Seymour, Tenth Circuit; Judge Clarence A. Brimmer, District of Wyoming; Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett, Eleventh Circuit;Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges, Middle District of Florida; Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards, District of Columbia Circuit; Chief Judge John Garrett Penn, District of Columbia; Chief Judge Glenn L. Archer, Jr., Federal Circuit; Chief Judge Gregory W. Carman, Court of International Trade; and Conference Secretary Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts