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Judicial Conference Judgeship Recommendations Endorsed by Administration

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States was told by Attorney General John Ashcroft today that the Bush Administration supports creation of new judgeships to help federal courts in dire need of relief.

The Conference requested that Congress add a total of 54 judgeships — six permanent and four temporary judgeships to the courts of appeals and 23 permanent and 21 temporary judgeships to the district courts.

Congress has not increased the ranks of federal appeals courts since 1990. Meanwhile, those courts’ caseloads have increased by 32 percent. The 19 district judgeships established since 1990 represent a 2.5 percent growth over a period in which criminal and civil filings nationwide have increased 30 percent.

While a judgeship bill was introduced in the Senate in September 2000, there never was a hearing or formal consideration by either House. The Conference transmitted its updated judgeship recommendations to Congress in February 2001. No legislation has been introduced in either house.

Earlier this year Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the Judicial Conference’s Executive Secretary, wrote Congressional leaders to point out that when the number of judicial vacancies and the number of needed new judgeships are added, the “overall total shortage of judges becomes staggering.”

“How many major corporations or Executive Branch agencies could function with so many senior management positions unfilled,” Mecham asked in his May 28, 2002, letter.

In other matters, the Conference:

  • Adopted several proposed amendments to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including one that explicitly recognizes the discretion of a judge to refuse to approve a class action settlement unless class members have a second chance to opt out after the settlement’s terms have become known. The proposed amendments will now be sent to the Supreme Court , which has until May 1, 2003, to transmit them to Congress. Congress has a 7-month statutory period to act on the amendments. If it does not enact legislation to reject, modify, or defer the amendments, they take effect as a matter of law on December 1, 2003.
  • Approved on a permanent basis a policy governing personal use of government office equipment, including information technology. The policy was developed by the federal Chief Information Officers Council in conjunction with ethics, legal, procurement, and human resources experts. It was approved by the Conference a year ago with the expectation that it would be tailored for the Judiciary before being implemented on a permanent basis. The policy represents a national minimum standard and each court has the right to maintain more restrictive policies.
  • Urged every federal court to include a prominent link from its web site to its circuit’s forms for filing complaints of judicial misconduct or disability.

The Judicial Conference is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice serves as the presiding officer of the Conference, which is 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. A list of the Conference members is attached.