Judicial Business 2020
This report presents statistics on the work of the federal Judiciary for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, comparing data for this year with data for prior years and, when possible, explaining increases or decreases in caseloads.
Separate sections of the report address the appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts; the probation and pretrial services system; and other components of the federal Judiciary. Caseload totals for the major programs of the federal Judiciary appear in the table of judicial caseload indicators.
This year, filings in the U.S. courts of appeals remained relatively stable, falling less than 1 percent to 48,190. Total filings in the U.S. district courts grew 39 percent to 544,460 as civil case filings climbed 58 percent to 470,581, while criminal defendant filings declined 20 percent to 73,879. Petitions filed in the U.S. bankruptcy courts dropped 21 percent to 612,561. The number of persons under post-conviction supervision decreased 2 percent to 126,970. Cases opened in the pretrial services system fell 26 percent to 80,242.
The illness COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, was first detected in the United States in January 2020. As cases of COVID-19 began soaring in this nation in March, U.S. states began to shut down and issue stay-at-home orders. The federal Judiciary limited human contact in federal courthouses, shuttered some buildings, and started using teleconferencing and other electronic methods to conduct proceedings. Many courts suspended jury trials when COVID-19 cases surged in their areas. Not only court employees but also attorneys and others making use of the courts had to acquire new skills and equipment to handle judicial work remotely during the pandemic. Many persons who otherwise would have become involved in litigation or other proceedings during this fiscal year likely were unable or unwilling to do so.
In the 12-month period ending September 30, 2020, the workload in most areas of the federal Judiciary was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the regional courts of appeals, filings fell less than 1 percent. Civil case filings in the U.S. district courts rose 58 percent, although this occurred largely because cases alleging personal injuries climbed 242 percent in response to multidistrict litigation filed in one district court; but for these cases, total civil filings would have gone down 10 percent. Criminal defendant filings in the U.S. district courts (including those for defendants transferred from other districts) dropped 20 percent. Bankruptcy court filings fell 21 percent as 89 of the 90 bankruptcy courts received fewer petitions. The number of persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2020, was 2 percent below the total one year earlier. Cases activated in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, declined 26 percent. Openings of representations by counsel under the Criminal Justice Act dropped 25 percent.
- Filings in the regional courts of appeals remained relatively stable, declining less than 1 percent to 48,190 in 2020.
- Filings by pro se litigants, which accounted for 49 percent of new cases, decreased less than 1 percent.
- Civil appeals dropped 5 percent.
- Criminal appeals fell 3 percent.
- Combined filings in the district courts for civil cases and criminal defendants climbed 39 percent to 544,460.
- Civil case filings increased 58 percent to 470,581.
- Cases involving diversity of citizenship soared 172 percent to 284,603.
- Federal question cases dropped 8 percent to 138,455.
- Filings with the United States as defendant rose 16 percent.
- Filings with the United States as plaintiff decreased 16 percent.
- Filings for criminal defendants (including those transferred from other districts) went down 20 percent to 73,879.
- Defendants prosecuted for immigration violations dropped 25 percent nationwide to 23,618 as the southwestern border districts, which received 84 percent of immigration crime defendants, had a combined reduction in filings of 22 percent.
- Drug offense defendants fell 17 percent to 21,677.
- Defendants accused of crimes involving firearms and explosives declined 13 percent to 11,042.
- Bankruptcy petition filings decreased 21 percent to 612,561.
- Nonbusiness (i.e., largely consumer) petitions went down 22 percent, and business petitions fell 2 percent.
- Filings under chapter 7 declined 15 percent, and filings under chapter 13 dropped 33 percent. Filings under chapter 11 rose 12 percent.
- Fewer petitions were filed in 89 of the 90 bankruptcy courts.
Federal Probation and Pretrial Services System
- The total of 126,970 persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2020, was 2 percent lower than the total one year earlier.
- Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date after leaving correctional institutions held steady, falling less than 1 percent to 112,849, and amounted to 89 percent of all persons under supervision.
- Cases opened in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversion cases, decreased 26 percent to 80,603.