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The Federal Bench – Annual Report 2019

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.

The members of the Judicial Conference of the United States at their September 2019 meeting.

The members of the Judicial Conference of the United States at their September 2019 meeting. Courtesy of the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Article III Judgeships

At its March 2019 meeting, the Judicial Conference agreed to request from Congress 70 additional Article III judgeships and the conversion of some temporary judgeships to permanent status. In May, the Conference sent to Congress its request for five new permanent circuit judgeships in the Ninth Circuit, 65 new permanent district judgeships across 24 districts, and the conversion of eight judgeships from temporary to permanent status. The Conference also noted six districts that are in particular need of emergency relief because of extraordinarily high, sustained workloads: Eastern California, Delaware, Southern Florida, Southern Indiana, New Jersey, and Western Texas.

Members of Congress have sponsored bills proposing additional judgeships in certain jurisdictions. For example, Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID) introduced legislation (H.R. 214) in January to authorize a new judgeship for the District of Idaho, which would increase its authorized judgeships to three.  Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID) sponsored a companion bill, (S. 103). His bill would also authorize two new temporary judgeships for the Ninth Circuit.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation (S. 14) to authorize 10 additional judgeships for the district courts in Florida. The bill also converts an existing temporary judgeship in the Southern Florida District to permanent status.

Congress did not pass comprehensive legislation creating new judgeships in 2019. The Judiciary’s fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill, signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019, included one-year extensions of 10 temporary judgeships, however, in districts in Northern Alabama, Arizona, Central California, Southern Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Eastern Missouri, New Mexico, Western North Carolina, and Eastern Texas.

Senior Judges

Approximately 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, 2019, senior judges participated in 25 percent of all court of appeals cases that were terminated after oral hearing or submission on briefs. In the district courts, senior judges closed 22 percent of all criminal cases and civil cases that were terminated, and they conducted 28 percent of all completed trials.

Visiting Judges

Visiting judges provide short-term assistance to courts with particularly high caseloads, both between circuits and among court districts within a circuit. The work of visiting judges is facilitated by the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Intercircuit Assignments.  In FY 2019, the committee recommended, and the Chief Justice approved, 222 intercircuit assignments of Article III judges. The committee also reviewed and concurred with 18 intercircuit assignments of magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges. For the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2019:

Bankruptcy Judges

In March 2019, the Judicial Conference recommended that Congress convert 10 of the Judiciary’s temporary bankruptcy judgeships to permanent status: five in the District of Delaware, two in the District of Puerto Rico, and one each in the districts of Maryland, Eastern Michigan, and Southern Florida.

The Conference conducts surveys of the judicial circuits every two years to gather information about where additional resources are needed. The surveys examine each court’s workload and case filing statistics, geographic needs, and other relevant factors that the Conference uses in drafting its requests to Congress for additional judgeships or extensions of temporary judgeships.

Congress has created temporary bankruptcy judgeships to address immediate workload needs when it is reluctant to establish permanent judgeships. Of the 347 total bankruptcy judgeships currently authorized by law, 31 are temporary. Typically, a temporary judgeship lasts five years from the day a judge is sworn into office.

Magistrate Judges

Magistrate judges perform indispensable work for the Judiciary. In 2019, there were about 530 full-time magistrate judges serving the Judiciary. During the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2019, magistrate judges:

In September 2019, the Judicial Conference approved the Magistrate Judges Committee’s recommendation to create two additional full-time magistrate judge positions: one at San Diego in the Southern District of California and one at St. Louis in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations

As of Dec. 31, 2019, there were 71 Article III judgeship vacancies: one in the courts of appeals (which was designated a “judicial emergency” as defined by Judicial Conference policy), 68 in the district courts (41 of which were judicial emergencies), and two in the Court of International Trade. In addition, 13 future vacancies were announced (13 judges announced their retirement dates but did not immediately retire): one for the courts of appeals and 12 for the district courts. A total of 33 Article III judgeship nominations were pending: two for the courts of appeals, 30 for the district courts, and one for the Court of International Trade. Also, nominations were pending for seven of eight vacant judgeships on the Court of Federal Claims. During the first session of the 116th Congress (calendar year 2019), 20 circuit judges, 80 district judges, and two Court of International Trade judges were confirmed. In addition, three Court of Federal Claims 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 Judiciary. The Chief Justice is the presiding officer. In 2019, the Conference met on March 12 and on Sept. 17 at the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

New Judicial Conference Committee Chairs

Judicial Conference committees make policy recommendations to 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 behalf of the Conference between sessions on matters requiring emergency action and preparing proposed consent and discussion calendars for meetings of the Conference.

In 2019, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. appointed two new members to the committee: Chief Judge Jeffrey R. Howard, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Chief Judge L. Scott Coogler, of the District Court for Northern Alabama. In early 2020, the Chief Justice appointed Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, to the committee. Judge Claire V. Eagan, of the U.S. District Court for Northern Oklahoma, chairs the Executive Committee.

Roberts also named five new chairs of Conference committees and extended the terms of seven current chairs by one year. The appointments took effect on Oct. 1, 2019, as follows: