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The Federal Bench in 2015 - Annual Report 2015

Exemplary and independent judges are at the heart of the federal Judiciary.

2015 Article III Judgeship Recommendations

In March 2015, the Judicial Conference submitted its biennial comprehensive judgeship recommendation, requesting 73 additional Article III judgeships and the conversion of nine existing temporary judgeships to permanent status. On behalf of the Conference, the AO’s Director urged Congress to establish new judgeships in five districts with extraordinarily high and sustained workloads: the District of Arizona, Eastern District of California, District of Delaware, District of Minnesota, and Eastern District of Texas.

In July 2015, on behalf of the Conference, draft legislation was transmitted to Congress proposing 19 additional Article III judgeships, as well as the conversion of three existing temporary district court judgeships to permanent status, for 11 district courts experiencing extraordinarily high and sustained workloads. The judgeships in this draft legislation are a subset of the comprehensive recommendations submitted on behalf of the Judicial Conference in March 2015. 

The draft legislation transmitted in July would create district judgeships in the:

It also would convert temporary judgeships to permanent status in the Central District of California, Southern District of Florida, and District of New Mexico.

Judgeship Bills Introduced in 114th Congress

Although no comprehensive judgeship bill with all the judgeships recommended by the Judicial Conference was introduced in the first session of the 114th Congress, Members of Congress introduced individual bills that would, if passed, create new judgeships. Representative Michael Simpson (R-ID) introduced legislation (H.R. 168) to authorize a new judgeship for the District of Idaho, which would bring that district’s number of authorized judgeships up to three. Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID) introduced a similar bill in the Senate (S. 360). 

Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced H.R. 2919 with cosponsors Representatives Michael Coffman (R-CO), Douglas Lamborn (R-CO), Edwin Perlmutter (R-CO), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Scott Tipton (R-CO) to authorize two new judgeships for the District of Colorado, which would raise the number of authorized judgeships to nine in that district.

Extensions of Temporary Article III Judgeships          

The fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill included one-year extensions for nine existing temporary Article III district judgeships whose authorizations expire in fiscal year 2016: the Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Southern District of Florida, District of Kansas, Eastern District of Missouri, District of New Mexico, Western District of North Carolina, and Eastern District of Texas.

The Judiciary’s fiscal year 2015 enacted appropriations bill included one-year extensions for 10 temporary judgeships.

New Bankruptcy Judgeship Recommendations

No legislation has been introduced in Congress reflecting the Judicial Conference’s 2015 recommendation to create six new bankruptcy judgeships and to convert to permanent 16 existing temporary bankruptcy judgeships. 

Of the 349 currently authorized bankruptcy judgeships, 33 are temporary. The Temporary Bankruptcy Judgeships Extension Act of 2012 extended 29 temporary judgeships until the first vacancy occurring after May 25, 2017. Unless converted or further extended, these judgeships will be lost as vacancies occur in the affected districts, primarily through retirements and resignations. 

One temporary judgeship, in the Southern District of Mississippi, will lapse upon the next judicial vacancy. The three remaining temporary judgeships have not been filled since being authorized and do not yet have a lapse date.

New Magistrate Judge Positions and Requests to Fill Vacancies Approved

At its June 2015 meeting, the Judicial Conference Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System considered and recommended for approval two requests for additional full-time magistrate judge positions, one at Denver in the District of Colorado, and the other a conversion to full-time of the part-time magistrate judge position at Wichita Falls in the Northern District of Texas. In September 2015, the Judicial Conference approved the recommendation and designated the positions for accelerated funding, effective April 1, 2016.

Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations

As of September 30, 2015, there were 67 Article III judgeship vacancies:  nine in the courts of appeals (of which five were “judicial emergencies” as defined by Judicial Conference policy), 54 in the district courts (of which 26 were judicial emergencies), and four in the Court of International Trade. A total of 32 Article III judgeship nominations were pending, one for the courts of appeals, 27 for the district courts, and four for the Court of International Trade. In addition, there were five pending nominations for judgeship vacancies in the Court of Federal Claims. During the 114th Congress, which convened in January 2015, a total of six judges (one circuit and five district) had been confirmed as of September 30, 2015.

Short-term Assistance Provided by Visiting Judges

The Judiciary uses intercircuit and intracircuit assignment of judges to provide short-term assistance to courts with especially heavy caseloads. For the 12-month period ending September 2015:

Also during this period, the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments recommended, and the Chief Justice approved, 200 intercircuit assignments of Article III judges. In addition, the Committee reviewed and concurred with three proposed intercircuit assignments of magistrate judges and two proposed intercircuit assignments of bankruptcy judges.

Judicial Conduct and Disability Rules Revisions

In September 2015, the Judicial Conference adopted amended rules for Judicial Conduct and Disability proceedings that provide for greater transparency. These were the first revisions to the Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings since the Conference adopted the rules in 2008. The amendments include dozens of clarifications, restyling and policy changes. They were the subject of a public hearing in October 2014, as well as a period for submission of public written comments. The rules govern all proceedings under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 to determine whether a judge has engaged in “conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts or ... is unable to discharge the duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability.” The rules are mandatory, and circuit judicial councils may promulgate additional rules as long as they do not conflict with the national rules.

Biannual Meetings of the Judicial Conference

The Judicial Conference of the United States was created in 1922 as the national policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice summons the Judicial Conference into session.

In 2015, the Judicial Conference met on March 10 and on September 17 at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

New Judicial Conference Committee Chairs

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, 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.

In 2015, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., named six new chairs of Judicial Conference committees, with terms beginning October 1, 2015 and also extended terms for the chairs of five Judicial Conference committees.

 The terms of five current Judicial Conference committee chairs were extended:

OSCAR Improvements

The Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2015. In the last decade, more than 2.5 million applications have been submitted through OSCAR by prospective law clerks and staff attorneys. Recent software upgrades to OSCAR will make it easier for judges to keep their OSCAR profiles current, which benefits both judges and prospective law clerks. In 2015, interactive maps also were added to the OSCAR website to view data on position postings and applications by circuit or district.