The Federal Bench – Annual Report 2022
Article III 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.
Article III Judgeships
In the first session of the 117th Congress, the Judicial Conference asked Congress to address the critical need for new Article III judgeships throughout the federal court system. Although several bills had been introduced by the end of the second session of the Congress in 2022, none had been passed.
The Conference in March 2021 recommended creating 79 additional judgeships — 77 of those for district courts and two of them for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Conference also recommended the conversion of nine existing temporary judgeships to permanent status. Six district courts were identified as priorities for expedited action because of their high sustained workloads. The districts and the number of recommended additional judgeships for each are: Central California, 15; Eastern California, 4; Delaware, 2; Southern Indiana, 2; New Jersey, 5; and Western Texas, 6.
In support of the new judgeships, the Judiciary noted that the number of cases filed in the courts of appeals has grown 12 percent since enactment of the last comprehensive judgeship legislation in 1990. In the district courts, case filings rose 47 percent through 2019 but declined in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then in September 2021, the Conference approved a recommendation for the creation of five additional Article III judgeships in Oklahoma, and a supplemental request was relayed to Congress, bringing the request for district judgeships to a total of 82. The Conference identified the need for the additional district judgeships after the Supreme Court’s July 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which dramatically increased prosecutions in the Northern and Eastern Districts of Oklahoma. The McGirt decision in effect shifted prosecutions of serious crimes on tribal land from state courts to federal or tribal courts.
In July 2021, Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Judicial Understaffing Delays Getting Emergencies Solved Act, which authorizes 77 new district judgeships and converts nine temporary judgeships to permanent status. The bill mirrored the Judicial Conference’s March recommendation for both additional district judgeships and the conversion of existing temporary judgeships to permanent status. The bill, which attracted bipartisan support in the Senate, authorized half of the judgeships in January 2025 and half in January 2029. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts, introduced a companion bill in the House that also had bipartisan support.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, introduced the District Court Judgeships Act of 2021, H.R. 4886, which would authorize 203 new district judgeships across 47 districts and convert nine temporary judgeships to permanent status. The bill included all the additional judgeships and conversions recommended by the Conference in March, except for one judgeship in the Northern District of Iowa. Authorization of the judgeships would occur at the time of bill enactment. The bill attracted multiple Democratic co-sponsors.
Johnson also introduced the Circuit Court Judgeships Act of 2022, H.R. 8936, which would authorize 51 new appellate judgeships across eight circuits. The bill, which had multiple Democratic co-sponsors, included the two additional judgeships recommended by the Conference in March.
Several other bills authorizing fewer judgeships were introduced, generally by members of Congress proposing judgeships for their local courts.
In 2022, 525 senior Article III judges served in the courts of appeals, the district courts, and the Court of International Trade, providing vital assistance in courts with large, sustained caseloads. The number of cases filed in the courts of appeals and district courts has grown substantially since 1990, the last year that comprehensive judgeship legislation was enacted.
Nationwide, during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2022, senior judges participated in 21 percent of all courts of appeals cases that were terminated after oral hearing or submission on briefs. In the district courts, senior judges closed 17 percent of all criminal cases and civil cases that were terminated, and they conducted 26 percent of all completed trials.
Visiting judges provide short-term assistance to courts with high caseloads, both between circuits and among court districts within a circuit. The work of visiting judges is facilitated by the Conference’s Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. In fiscal year 2022, the committee recommended, and the Chief Justice approved, 172 intercircuit assignments of Article III judges. The committee also reviewed and concurred with 25 intercircuit assignments of magistrate judges and 21 intercircuit assignments of bankruptcy judges. For the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2022:
- Visiting Article III judges participated in 2,349 appeals closed after an oral hearing or submission on briefs. They closed 941 civil cases and closed matters involving 1,076 criminal defendants.
- Visiting magistrate judges terminated three civil cases with the consent of the parties.
- In the bankruptcy courts, judges provided 4,021 hours of visiting assistance.
The Conference conducts surveys of the circuits every two years to gather information about where additional bankruptcy judgeships 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, extensions of temporary judgeships, or conversions of temporary judgeships to permanent status.
Congress has created temporary bankruptcy judgeships to address immediate workload needs when it is reluctant to establish permanent judgeships. Of the 345 total bankruptcy judgeships currently authorized by law, 29 are temporary. Typically, a temporary judgeship is authorized for five years from the day a judge is sworn into office.
When it became law in January 2021, the Bankruptcy Administration Improvement Act of 2020 extended 25 of the 29 temporary bankruptcy judgeships for an additional five years. The change affected 14 districts.
In March 2021, the Conference asked Congress to authorize two additional bankruptcy judgeships, one each in the Northern District of Mississippi and the Southern District of New York. The Conference also called for the conversion of 12 temporary judgeships to permanent status, seven in the District of Delaware, two in the Southern District of Florida, and one each in the District of Maryland, the Eastern District of Michigan, and the District of Puerto Rico. Finally, the Conference asked Congress to extend 10 temporary bankruptcy judgeships for an additional five years.
In September 2022, the Judicial Conference recommended that Congress preserve all currently authorized bankruptcy judgeships. In December 2022, the Conference transmitted to Congress its report on the continuing need for bankruptcy judgeships, including the recommendation.
Magistrate judges perform indispensable work for the Judiciary. In 2022, there were 562 full-time magistrate judges serving the Judiciary. There were also 25 part-time magistrate judgeships, two combination clerk of court/magistrate judgeships, and 84 retired magistrate judges serving on recall, with several authorized to serve in multiple districts.
During the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2022, magistrate judges:
- Conducted 468,373 felony preliminary proceedings, including search warrants, initial appearances, detention hearings, preliminary proceedings, and arraignments. They also disposed of Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases involving 28,337 defendants.
- Disposed of 19,785 civil cases with the consent of the parties and conducted 18,785 settlement conferences in civil cases.
In June 2022, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference approved a recommendation from the Magistrate Judges Committee to authorize a new full-time magistrate judge position in Tulsa in the Northern District of Oklahoma, which was in urgent need of more judges because of district judge vacancies and the significant increase in the court’s felony workload after the Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma. The decision shifted the prosecution of serious crimes from state court to federal or tribal court in much of the eastern part of Oklahoma.
Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations
As of Dec. 31, 2022, there were 83 Article III judgeship vacancies: 10 in the courts of appeals (two of which were designated judicial emergencies as defined by Conference policy), 71 in the district courts (26 of which were designated judicial emergencies), and two on the Court of International Trade. There were two vacancies on the Court of Federal Claims. In addition, 28 future vacancies were announced (when a judge announces a retirement date), three in the courts of appeals and 25 in the district courts. A total of 44 Article III judgeship nominations were pending: nine in the courts of appeals and 35 in the district courts. During the second session of the 117th Congress (calendar year 2022), one Supreme Court justice, 16 circuit judges, and 39 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 Judiciary. The Chief Justice is the presiding officer. In 2022, the Conference met on March 15 and on Sept. 20 at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Reports of the Conference’s meetings are published on the Judiciary’s website.
New Judicial Conference Committee Chairs
Judicial Conference committees make policy recommendations to the Conference in a variety of areas, such as IT, 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 Conference meetings.
In 2022, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed Eighth Circuit Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith as chair of the Executive Committee and appointed Third Circuit Chief Judge Michael A. Chagares and District of Hawaii Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi as new members.
The Chief Justice named four new chairs of other Conference committees and extended the terms of five current chairs by a year, effective Oct. 1, 2022.
- Judge Kevin Michael Moore (Southern District of Florida) was extended for one year as chair of the Committee on Audits and Administrative Office Accountability.
- Chief Judge Sara Darrow (Central District of Illinois) was extended for one year as chair of the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System.
- Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove (Eastern District of Kentucky) succeeded Judge Audrey G. Fleissig (Eastern District of Missouri) as chair of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management.
- Judge D. Michael Fisher (Third Circuit) was extended for one year as chair of the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction.
- Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis (Eastern District of New York) was extended for another year as chair of the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments.
- Judge David G. Campbell (District of Arizona) succeeded Judge Sidney H. Stein (Southern District of New York) as chair of the Committee on International Judicial Relations.
- Bankruptcy Judge Rebecca Buehler Connelly (Western District of Virginia) succeeded Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Dow (Western District of Missouri) as chair of the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules.
- Judge James C. Dever III (Eastern District of North Carolina) succeeded Judge Raymond M. Kethledge (Sixth Circuit) as chair of the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules.
- Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick (Northern District of Ohio) was extended for one year as chair of the Committee on Space and Facilities.
The Chief Justice also made the following new chair appointment, effective Nov. 1, 2022: Judge Robin L. Rosenberg (Southern District of Florida) succeeded Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. (Northern District of Illinois) as chair of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.