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Judicial Business 2021

This report presents statistics on the work of the federal Judiciary for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021, 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.

The COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the operations and workload of the federal Judiciary in March 2020 and continued to do so this fiscal year. As COVID cases soared in the United States, the federal Judiciary in-person events in federal courthouses, closed some buildings, started using teleconferencing and other electronic methods to conduct proceedings, and in many areas suspended grand jury and petit jury activity. Many persons who might have become involved in litigation or other proceedings during the pandemic likely were unable or unwilling to do so. Federal courts resumed some operations when COVID-19 infections in their regions declined, but social distancing requirements and other safety measures created challenges for staging proceedings, including trials. In the 12-month period ending September 30, 2021, the workload in most areas of the federal Judiciary was affected by the pandemic.

In the regional courts of appeals, filings fell 8 percent to 44,546. Total filings in the U.S. district courts fell 23 percent to 419,032 as civil case filings dropped 27 percent to 344,567, while criminal defendant filings grew nearly 1 percent to 74,465. Bankruptcy court filings declined 29 percent to 434,540 as all 90 bankruptcy courts received fewer petitions. The number of persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2021, was 22,458, which was 4 percent below the total one year earlier. Cases activated in the pretrial services system, excluding pretrial diversion cases, decreased 5 percent to 76,367. Openings of representations by counsel under the Criminal Justice Act went down 23 percent to 145,726.

Caseload Highlights

U.S. Courts of Appeals

  • Filings in the regional courts of appeals declined 8 percent to 44,546 in 2021.
  • Filings by pro se litigants, which accounted for 48 percent of new cases, fell 9 percent to 21,423.
  • Civil appeals dropped 9 percent to 23,256.
  • Criminal appeals rose 10 percent to 10,625.

U.S. District Courts

  • Combined filings in the district courts for civil cases and criminal defendants decreased 23 percent to 419,032.

Civil Filings

  • Civil case filings went down 27 percent to 344,567.
  • Cases involving diversity of citizenship decreased 41 percent to 166,848.
  • Federal question cases declined 2 percent to 135,236.
  • Filings with the United States as defendant dropped 11 percent to 39,225, and filings with the United States as plaintiff fell 4 percent to 3,257.

Criminal Filings

  • Filings for criminal defendants (including those transferred from other districts) increased nearly 1 percent to 74,465.
  • Drug offense defendants rose 6 percent to 23,079.
  • Defendants prosecuted for immigration violations dropped 18 percent nationwide to 19,266 as the southwestern border districts, which received 89 percent of immigration crime defendants, had a combined reduction in filings of 14 percent.
  • Increases occurred in defendants accused of fraud (up 18 percent), sex offenses (up 10 percent), and crimes involving firearms and explosives (up 8 percent).

U.S. Bankruptcy Courts

  • Bankruptcy petition filings decreased 29 percent to 434,540.
  • Nonbusiness (i.e., largely consumer) petitions went down 29 percent to 418,400, and business petitions fell 28 percent to 16,140.
  • Reductions occurred in filings under chapter 7 (down 24 percent), chapter 11 (down 31 percent), and chapter 13 (down 39 percent).
  • Fewer petitions were filed in all 90 bankruptcy courts.

Federal Probation and Pretrial Services System

  • The total of 122,458 persons under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2021, was 4 percent lower than the total one year earlier.
  • Persons serving terms of supervised release on that date after leaving correctional institutions fell 3 percent to 108,932 and amounted to 89 percent of all persons under supervision.
  • Cases opened in the pretrial services system, excluding pretrial diversion cases, decreased 5 percent to 76,367.