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Judicial Conference Finalizes Long Range Plan

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States yesterday approved a lengthy series of recommendations from its Proposed Long Range Plan for the Federal Courts relating to federal court jurisdiction, adjudicative structure, governance, the allocation of resources, and other aspects of federal court operations and administration.

Among the many items from the plan approved by the Conference at its semiannual meeting in Washington are the following:

  • When legislation is considered that may affect the federal courts directly or indirectly, Congress should be encouraged to take into account the judicial impact of the proposed legislation, including the increased caseload and resulting costs to the federal courts.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, not a new appellate court, should continue to be the sole arbiter of conflicting precedents among the courts of appeals.
  • Each court of appeals should comprise a number of judges sufficient to maintain access to and excellence of federal appellate justice. Circuit restructuring should occur only if compelling empirical evidence demonstrates adjudicative or administrative dysfunction in a court so that it cannot continue to deliver quality justice and coherent, consistent circuit law in the face of an increasing caseload.
  • Press and public access to court proceedings should be generally unrestricted. Access should be balanced with the court's primary mission to administer justice, keeping in mind that there are very limited situations in which privacy and other concerns require confidentiality.
  • Attention should be given to the problem of frequent, prolonged judicial vacancies in the federal courts. The executive branch and the Senate should be encouraged to fill vacancies promptly and the judicial branch should utilize procedures to mitigate the impact of vacancies on the capacity of the courts to conduct judicial business.

The Judicial Conference formally received the long range plan at its previous meeting in March 1995. It gave members until mid-April to review the plan and identify items for further study by Conference committees. As a result, nearly two thirds of the plan was approved with little or no change. The remaining recommendations were submitted to the Conference at its current meeting. A final version of the approved plan will be published later this year. The plan represents the culmination of a four-year-long process and is the first comprehensive long range-plan for the federal court system.

In other action, the Conference:

  • Approved the report on death penalty representation adopted by its Defender Services Committee. The committee found that Post Conviction Defender Organizations (PCDOs) are a cost-effective, efficient means of providing representation in death penalty cases. The committee reached its conclusion based on interviews and data it obtained from federal and state judges, state attorneys general, resource center directors and staff, traditional federal defenders, state bar representatives, and private attorneys. In FY 96 Congress is expected to eliminate the funding for the existing 20 PCDOs that currently serve 50 U.S. districts, but may allow for a six-month phase-out.
  • Amended its September 1993 proposal for the creation of 19 new bankruptcy judgeships to instead transmit a request to Congress to create 11 new bankruptcy judgeships as follows: one judgeship each in the Eastern District of New York, the Northern District of New York, the District of New Jersey, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Southern District of Florida, and the District of Maryland, and four bankruptcy judgeships in the Central District of California.
  • Unanimously voted to defer any review of the issue of whether cameras should be permitted in the courts of appeals until the next regularly scheduled session of the Conference in March 1996.
  • Recommended that the name of Judge A. David Mazzone (D. Mass.) be presented to the President for reappointment to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The Conference also agreed to forward to the President the names of Judges Diana E. Murphy (8th Cir.), Donald E. O'Brien (N.D. Iowa), and William B. Enright (S.D. Cal.) for the appointment of one of them to the commission succeeding Judge Julie Carnes (N.D.Ga.), who does not seek reappointment. Two Democratic vacancies on the commission will occur on October 31, 1995.
  • Approved a resolution in memory of the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. In part the resolution states, "His [Burger's] reputation as a jurist, a scholar, and an esteemed colleague will be forever a part of the history of this Conference and a grateful nation."
  • Approved a resolution in recognition of the tenth anniversary of L. Ralph Mecham, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. It states, in part, "Director Mecham's distinguished leadership has served to reshape and strengthen the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to meet current and anticipated challenges."

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 U.S. courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The chair of the Executive Committee of the Conference presides when the Chief Justice is not present. 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.

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States