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The Federal Bench in 2014 - Annual Report 2014

In FY 2014, recommendations for new and temporary judgeships were made so that the courts could best carry out their constitutional responsibilities. At the same time, the Judiciary began to reassess how future requests for circuit, district, and bankruptcy judgeships will be developed and transmitted to Congress.

Article III and Bankruptcy Judgeship Recommendations

At its March 2013 meeting, the Judicial Conference recommended adding five permanent judgeships and one temporary judgeship to the courts of appeals, and 65 permanent judgeships and 20 temporary judgeships to the district courts, as well as the conversion of eight temporary judgeships to permanent status.

Although several bills creating new Article III judgeships were introduced in the House and Senate during the 113rd Congress, only one, S. 1385, the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013, introduced in the Senate by Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), reflected all of the Judicial Conference Article III judgeship recommendations.

No legislation was introduced with the Judicial Conference recommendation to create 31 new bankruptcy judgeships and convert to permanent 20 existing temporary bankruptcy judgeships.

Congress also was informed that five district courts are struggling with extraordinarily high and sustained workloads, and was urged to establish, as soon as possible, new judgeships in the District of Arizona, Eastern District of California, District of Delaware, Eastern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas. Each of these districts has 700 or more weighted filings per authorized judgeship, averaged over a three-year period.

Extended Temporary Judgeships

On January 17, 2014, several temporary judgeships whose authorization was due to lapse in 2014 were extended with the enactment into law of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (Pub. Law No. 113-76). Provisions of the Act extended for one year the temporary judgeships in the Northern District of Alabama, the District of Arizona, the Central District of California, the Southern District of Florida, the District of Hawaii, the District of Kansas, the Eastern District of Missouri, the District of New Mexico, and the Eastern District of Texas.

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, Pub. Law No. 113-235, included provisions extending for another year the temporary judgeships in these same districts and also extending the temporary judgeship in the Western District of North Carolina.

Review of Procedures for Developing Future Judgeship Requests

In March 2013, the Executive Committee directed the Judicial Conference Committees on Judicial Resources and on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System to review and take appropriate action to refine and update the standards and procedures for developing future Judiciary requests for circuit, district, and bankruptcy judgeships. Both committees recommended that the Judicial Conference give the Director of the Administrative Office greater authority to seek additional Conference-approved judgeships in select courts, providing the Judiciary with more flexibility in pursuing judgeships in courts with the greatest needs. Given the difficulty in securing conversions of existing temporary judgeships to permanent status, both committees will refrain from recommending new temporary judgeships in 2015, and recommend only new permanent judgeships or conversion of existing temporary judgeships to permanent status. Both committees also are considering modifications to the caseload standards used to develop judgeship recommendations.

Case Weight Assessment for Bankruptcy Judgeship Requests

At the request of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System, AO and Federal Judicial Center (FJC) staff reviewed the bankruptcy case weighting system and are working to implement a mega-case adjustment into the case weights used for requesting additional judgeships and for the conversion of existing temporary judgeships to permanent status.

During the summer of 2014, AO staff assisted the Committee with its biennial assessment of the continuing need for authorized bankruptcy judgeships in courts with low-weighted case filings per judgeship. Additionally, in the fall of 2014, AO staff assisted the Committee with a survey on the need for additional bankruptcy judgeships.

Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations

As of September 30, 2014, there were 60 Article III judgeship vacancies: seven in the courts of appeals, 50 in the district courts, and three in the Court of International Trade. A total of 27 Article III judgeship nominations were pending: one for the courts of appeals, 25 for the district courts, and one for the Court of International Trade. In addition, there were six pending nominations for judgeship vacancies in the Court of Federal Claims.

In the 113th Congress (January 2013 to December 2014), 134 Article III judges (23 circuit, 109 district, and two Court of International Trade), and three Court of Federal Claims judges were confirmed.

Visiting Judge Assignments

The Judiciary uses intercircuit and intracircuit assignments of judges to provide short-term assistance to courts with overwhelming caseloads. For the 12-month period ending September 2014:

During this same period, the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments recommended and the Chief Justice approved 215 intercircuit assignments of 125 Article III judges. The committee also reviewed and concurred with two proposed intercircuit assignments of magistrate judges and two proposed intercircuit assignments of bankruptcy judges.

Changes in Magistrate Judge Positions

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

In September 2014, the Judicial Conference authorized additional full-time magistrate judge positions in the Middle District of Florida (Tampa), the Northern District of California (San Jose or San Francisco) and the Western District of Washington (Seattle or Tacoma). At the same time, the Conference decided to discontinue part-time magistrate judge positions in the Western District of Washington (Vancouver), the District of Wyoming (Jackson), and the District of North Dakota (Fargo). In March 2014, the Conference approved discontinuation of a vacant part-time magistrate judge position in the District of Montana (Wolf Point).

Since 2004, Judicial Conference policy requires that all magistrate judge position vacancies be reviewed by the full Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System or its chair. During fiscal year 2014, the Committee approved district court requests to fill 46 vacant magistrate judge positions and the recall and extension of recall of 27 retired magistrate judges.

Biannual Meetings of the Judicial Conference

Pursuant to statute, the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the federal court system, has convened for more than 90 years. In 2014, the Judicial Conference met on March 11 and on September 16 at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

network of committees supports the work of the Conference and provides the Conference with recommendations for action in their individual subject areas. The Judicial Conference committees address and advise the Conference on a variety of subjects, such as information technology, personnel, probation and pretrial services, space and facilities, security, budget, defender services, court administration, and rules of practice and procedure. The Chief Justice has sole authority to make committee appointments.

New Judicial Conference Committee Chairs

In 2014, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. named six new Judicial Conference committee chairs and extended the terms of seven current Conference committee chairs.

Advisory Councils Address Incentives for Cost Containment

The AO's four subject-matter Advisory Councils — Budget and Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Space and Security — provide advice to the AO and to Judicial Conference committees and to other Judiciary entities on the development of policy recommendations, the identification of new or amended policies, and the implementation of policies. Members include judges, unit executives, chief deputies, and assistant circuit executives. During the plenary session of the October 2014 advisory council meetings, members were tasked with providing feedback on possible incentives for cost containment in the courts.