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Judiciary Supplements Judgeship Request, Prioritizes Courthouse Projects

The Judiciary’s policy-making body today recommended that Congress create new judgeships because of a rapid and substantial rise in felony prosecutions in two districts.

The Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma held that land allotted by an 1832 treaty between the Creek Nation and the United States Government remains “Indian Country” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act. The decision was later extended to four additional Indian nations and shifted the prosecution of the most serious crimes on tribal land from state court to federal or tribal court in much of the eastern part of Oklahoma.  

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This has caused the number of criminal cases filed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma to jump more than 400 percent and the Northern District of Oklahoma to increase by nearly 200 percent from 2020 to 2021. As a result, the Conference is recommending that Congress authorize three new judgeships in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and two in the Northern District of Oklahoma. The Eastern District currently has one authorized judgeship, the Northern District has three, and the two districts share a judgeship.

The request for these five judgeships supplements the recommendation the Judicial Conference adopted in March 2021 and transmitted to Congress to create 79 new judgeships in federal courts across the country.   

At its meeting today the Judicial Conference also approved its fiscal year 2023 Federal Judiciary Courthouse Project Priorities (CPP) list. Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, remains a judicial space emergency because of earthquake risks and is prioritized above all new courthouse construction projects. A seismic retrofit is planned for the Degetau Federal Building, and the significant impact it would have on district court components housed in that building supports the project’s emergency designation. (The Federico Degetau Federal Building and the Clemente Ruiz Nazario United States Courthouse compose the Hato Rey Federal Court Complex.)

Courthouses in Hartford, Connecticut, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been identified as projects for which the Judiciary will request additional federal funding in its annual budget submission. These projects already received partial funding, including $135.5 million for Harford and $94.5 million for Chattanooga. In addition, the following projects have been identified as out-year courthouse priorities — Bowling Green, Kentucky; Anchorage, Alaska; McAllen, Texas; Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia.

The federal courthouse construction program is administered jointly by the Judiciary and the General Services Administration (GSA). The Judiciary establishes priorities for courthouse construction projects and sets the housing requirements for each project to ensure that completed facilities meet the needs of the courts. GSA secures the funding for construction, acquires the building site, and completes design and construction work on the facilities. The Judiciary annually identifies potential locations for new courthouses, annexes, and/or major renovation of courthouses that have the most urgent space needs in the CPP list.

The 26-member Judicial Conference (pdf) is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are 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 convenes 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. The Conference conducted its regularly scheduled biannual meeting today by teleconference due to the pandemic.

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States