Main content

The Federal Bench – Annual Report 2018

Article III judges and senior judges, bankruptcy judges, and magistrate judges work in federal courts across the country to ensure that caseload demands are met and that justice is delivered in a timely manner to all litigants.

Judicial Conference members from September 2018

The members of the Judicial Conference at their September 2018 meeting.

Article III Judgeships

The Judiciary periodically apprises Congress of the most pressing new judgeship needs. At the outset of the 115th session of Congress in 2017, the Judicial Conference requested 52 new permanent district judgeships and the conversion of eight existing temporary judgeships to permanent status for districts with large, sustained workloads. The districts are: Arizona, California Central, Florida Southern, Kansas, Missouri Eastern, New Mexico, North Carolina Western, and Texas Eastern. Several of the districts have large immigration-related caseloads. At the conclusion of its session in early January 2019, Congress had not acted on the Judiciary’s request.

The Judiciary’s fiscal year 2018 appropriation, which was signed into law in March 2018, included one-year extensions of the eight temporary judgeships, as well as one-year extensions of judgeships in Alabama Northern and Hawaii. In its FY 2019 appropriations request, the Judiciary sought additional one-year extensions of the eight judgeships. Both the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill included the extensions, as well as the those for Alabama Northern and Hawaii.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing in June 2018 called “Examining the Need for New Federal Judges.” Testifying on behalf of the Judicial Conference were Chief Judge Lawrence Stengel, chair of the Conference’s Judicial Resources Committee; Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, chair of the Conference’s Judicial Statistics Subcommittee; and Judge Dana Sabraw, a district court judge in Southern California. The shortage of judges in some districts, Judge Stengel told the subcommittee, “has reached urgent levels.”

Senior Judges

Nearly 500 senior Article III judges serve in the courts of appeals and district courts, providing vital assistance in courts with large, sustained caseloads. The number of cases filed in the courts of appeals and district courts has grown by approximately 40 percent since 1990, the last year that comprehensive judgeship legislation was enacted. Nationwide, during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2018, senior judges participated in 25 percent of all court of appeals cases terminated after oral hearing or submission on briefs, and in the district courts, senior judges closed 23 percent of all criminal and civil cases terminated, and conducted 28 percent of all completed trials.

Visiting Judges

Visiting intercircuit and intracircuit judges provide short-term assistance to courts with particularly high caseloads. The work of the judges on intercircuit assignments is facilitated by the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. In FY 2018, the committee recommended, and the Chief Justice approved, 225 intercircuit assignments of Article III judges. The committee also reviewed and concurred with 16 intercircuit assignments of magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges who provided assistance to the District of Puerto Rico in criminal proceedings involving detainees and prisoners displaced by hurricanes, and also helped with the territory’s financial restructuring under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA).

For the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2018:

Bankruptcy Judges

In late 2017, Congress and the president approved four new temporary judgeships and extended 14 existing temporary bankruptcy judgeships for an additional five years in the Bankruptcy Judgeship Act of 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-72. The Judiciary continues to have other needs in this area. Of the 350 currently authorized bankruptcy judgeships, 34 are temporary. Of those, 13 have passed their lapse dates. If a vacancy occurs in a district with a temporary bankruptcy judgeship, that judgeship would be lost. In February and June 2018, two temporary judgeships in the Central District of California that had lapse dates of May 2017 were lost when bankruptcy judges in that district retired.

Magistrate Judges

Magistrate judges continue to perform indispensable work for the Judiciary. During the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2018, magistrate judges:

In September 2018, the Judicial Conference approved the Magistrate Judges Committee’s recommendation to create six new magistrate judge positions:  one in the District of Delaware, one in the Western District of Texas, two in the District of New Jersey, and two in the Northern District of Illinois. As of Aug. 1, 2018, 83 retired magistrate judges were serving on recall in 45 districts.

Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations

As of Dec. 31, 2018, there were 133 Article III judgeship vacancies: 12 in the courts of appeals (nine of which were “judicial emergencies” as defined by Judicial Conference policy), 119 in the district courts (57 of which were judicial emergencies), and two in the Court of International Trade. A total of 70 Article III judgeship nominations were pending: 12 for the courts of appeals, 56 for the district courts, and two for the Court of International Trade. Also, nominations were pending for three of the 11 vacant judgeships on the Court of Federal Claims. In the 115th Congress, two Supreme Court associate justices, 30 circuit judges, and 53 district judges were confirmed.

Biannual Meetings of the Judicial Conference

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the national policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice is the presiding officer. In 2018, the Conference met on March 13 and on Sept. 13 at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

New Judicial Conference Committee Chairs

Judicial Conference committees advise the Conference on a variety of subjects, such as information technology, probation and pretrial services, space and facilities, security, the budget, defender services, court administration, and rules of practice and procedure. The Chief Justice has sole authority to make committee appointments.

The Executive Committee is the senior executive arm of the Conference, with responsibilities that include acting on the Conference’s behalf between sessions on matters requiring emergency action as authorized by the Chief Justice and preparing proposed consent and discussion calendars for meetings of the Conference. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, chairs the Executive Committee.

In 2018, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. named eight new chairs of Judicial Conference committees. Unless otherwise noted, the appointments took effect on Oct. 1, 2018.