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Judiciary Makes the Case for New Judgeships

The creation of new judgeships has not kept pace with the growth in case filings over three decades, producing “profound” negative effects for many courts across the country, U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller told Congress today.

Miller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing on the Judiciary’s request for additional judgeships. He appeared on behalf of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body of the federal Judiciary. Miller chairs a subcommittee on judicial statistics for the conference’s Committee on Judicial Resources.

The Judicial Conference has recommended that Congress establish five new judgeships in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and 65 new judgeships in 24 district courts across the country. The conference also recommended that eight existing temporary district court judgeships be converted to permanent status.

Since 1990, when the last comprehensive judgeship bill was passed by Congress, case filings in the courts of appeals had grown by 15 percent by the end of 2018, while district court case filings had risen by 39 percent in the same period.

 “The effects of caseload increases without increasing the number of judges are profound,” Miller said in his written testimony. “Increasing caseloads lead to significant delays in the consideration of cases, especially civil cases which may take years to get to trial. … Delays increase expenses for civil litigants and may increase the length of time criminal defendants are held pending trial. Substantial delays lead to lack of respect for the Judiciary and the judicial process.”

Miller noted that before a judgeship recommendation is transmitted to Congress, it undergoes careful consideration and review at six levels within the Judiciary.

Judgeship needs are determined through an examination of the unique circumstances of a district, such as the number of senior judges and magistrate judges to assist with workload. The conference also uses a mathematical formula to determine the “weighted filings per judgeship,” which is a way of accounting for the varying complexity of the different types of civil and criminal filings and the differences in time commitments required of judges. 

For example, the goal is to maintain a standard in the range of 430 weighted filings per judgeship in a district court. For the district courts where additional judgeships are being requested, weighted filings average 635 per judgeship.

“The conference does not recommend, or wish, indefinite growth in the number of judges,” Miller testified. “It recognizes that growth in the Judiciary must be carefully limited to the number of new judgeships that are necessary to exercise federal court jurisdiction. The conference attempts to balance the need to control growth and the need to seek resources that are appropriate to the Judiciary’s caseload.”

Related Topics: Congressional Hearing, Judges & Judgeships, Legislation