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October 2009

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


Judiciary Supports New Judgeships

“To enable the Judiciary to continue serving litigants efficiently and effectively, the judicial workforce must be expanded,” a Judicial Conference representative told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, testifying this month in support of S. 1653, a Senate bill that would create new federal judgeships. The subcommittee hearing was entitled, “Responding to the Growing Need for Federal Judgeships: the Federal Judgeship Act of 2009.”

Judge George Z. Singal (D. Me.) chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources, told the subcommittee that the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted 19 years ago. In that time, filings in the courts of appeals grew by 38 percent, while case filings in the district courts rose 31 percent. His testimony is available at www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/2009/newJudgeships.cfm.

Also testifying before the subcommittee on the judgeship needs of their courts were Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gerald B. Tjoflat.

Singal thanked Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for introducing S. 1653, which reflects the Judicial Conference recommendation that Congress establish 63 new judgeships in the courts of appeals and district courts, convert five temporary district court judgeships to permanent, and extend one temporary judgeship.

According to Singal, no additional judgeships have been created for the courts of appeals since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was passed in 1990. “As a result,” he said, “the national average caseload per three-judge panel has reached 1,067. Were it not for the assistance provided by senior and visiting judges, the courts of appeals would not have been able to keep pace, particularly in light of the number and length of vacancies.”

The average number of weighted filings per judgeship in the district courts has reached 471, exceeding the 430 weighted filings per judgeship the Conference uses as a starting point in recommending new judgeships at the district level. As a group, the district courts in which judgeships have been recommended have seen a growth in weighted filings per judgeship from 427 in 1991 to 575 in June 2009, an increase of 35 percent.

The situation in district courts where the Conference has recommended additional judgeships is much more dramatic than indicated by national totals. In 20 of the district courts where the Conference recommends an additional judgeship, the workload exceeds 500 weighted filings. In seven courts, weighed filings exceed 600.

Despite national data supporting the need for additional judgeships, the Conference recognizes that the Judiciary’s growth must be limited to the number of new judgeships that are necessary to exercise federal court jurisdiction.

“The Conference does not recommend (or wish) indefinite growth in the number of judges,” Singal said. “The Conference attempts to balance the need to control growth and the need to seek resources that are appropriate to the Judiciary’s caseload. In an effort to implement that policy, we have requested far fewer judgeships than the caseload increases combined with other factors would suggest are now required.”

To assess judgeship needs in the circuit and district courts, the Conference conducts a survey every two years. The latest survey was completed in March 2009. Before a judgeship recommendation is transmitted to Congress, it undergoes multiple levels of review and consideration. Although recommendations are based in large part on a numerical standard based on caseload, other court-specific information is weighted, such as the number of senior judges and the levels of activity, the assistance of magistrate judges, the size of the district or circuit, the complexity of caseload, temporary or prolonged caseload increases or decreases, and the use of visiting judges.

For a list of the circuits and districts where new judgeships are recommended by the Judicial Conference, visit www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/2009/recommendations.pdf.