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June 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Judgeship Bill Moves

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported a bill in mid-May that would create 12 permanent court of appeals judgeships and 38 permanent district court judgeships, in addition to several temporary judgeships. If enacted, the Federal Judgeship Act of 2008, S. 2774, would be the first comprehensive judgeship bill in 18 years. The bill reflects the judgeship recommendation of the Judicial Conference for existing Article III courts.

With a strong 15-4 committee vote in favor of the legislation, chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) agreed to accommodate the desire for a hearing on the part of some Senators who raised concerns about the method for Article III judgeship recommendations. Leahy is not expected to ask the full Senate to move the legislation until a hearing is held in the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts.

In a statement released after the bill was reported, Leahy said S. 2774 would help reduce judicial backlogs in districts across the country.

“Since the last comprehensive judgeship bill became law 18 years ago, filings in the courts of appeals have grown by 55 percent, and district court case filings have risen by 29 percent,” said Leahy. “The Federal Judgeship Act responds to the needs of districts based on weighted case filings and assistance from senior and magistrate judges, caseload complexity and temporary caseload increases or decreases.”

The Judicial Conference judgeship recommendations are based upon the federal Judiciary’s biannual survey of judgeship needs. In March 2007, when making its current recommendation, the Conference noted that since 1990 the number of court of appeals judgeships has remained at 179, even though federal appellate court case filings have risen over the same 17-year time period. In various appropriations measures, Congress has increased the number of district court judgeships by 4 percent, from 645 to 674, since 1990.

“Caseloads for federal judges are nearing record highs,” Leahy said following the May committee meeting. “In 2006, district court judges faced an average of 464 cases, while three-judge panels at the circuit court level averaged 1,197 cases. These numbers are well above the appropriate standard set by the Judicial Conference.”

Even if S. 2774 is enacted into law this Congress, a provision in the bill ensures that the new judgeships would not take effect until the day after the inauguration of the next President.