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July 01, 2018

ABA recommends steps to help judiciary maintain excellence

Expressing the association’s views last month on judgeship needs for the federal judiciary, the ABA offered several steps that Congress could take to help the judiciary maintain its excellence short of enacting a comprehensive judgeship bill.

In a letter for the record of a June 21 hearing convened by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman pointed out that since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted in 1990, only 34 new district court judgeships have been created even though court filings have increased 38 percent in district courts and 40 percent in circuit courts.

These increases are fueled in large part, he said, by congressional expansion of federal court jurisdiction and national drug and immigration policies that call for and fund enhanced law enforcement efforts without providing concomitant resources to the federal judiciary.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, which surveys the judgeship needs of the federal judiciary every two years, is recommending the creation of 52 district court and five circuit court judgeships and the conversion of eight temporary district court judgeships to permanent status. In testimony before the committee, Chief Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, chair of Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Resources, said that the shortage of judges has reached urgent levels in five districts: the Eastern District of California, District of Delaware, Southern District of Florida, Southern District of Indiana, and Western District of Texas.

“While we believe that the Judicial Conference is in the best position to determine the number of judges needed to dispense timely justice and support its recommendation,” Susman wrote, “we also acknowledge Congress’s longstanding resistance to passing a comprehensive judgeship bill and its legitimate concern over the expense of creating new judgeships.”

Susman proposed the following steps Congress could take short of comprehensive legislation:

  • establish new judgeships in the five district courts singled out by the Judicial Conference for immediate relief;
  • convert the eight existing temporary judgeships that have been recommended for conversion into permanent judgeships or at least extend their temporary status for 10 years; and
  • consider the impact of legislation on the workload of the federal courts and provide the judiciary with sufficient resources to handle new responsibilities resulting from enactment of new laws.

The subcommittee hearing was the first action that Congress has taken on the Judicial Conference recommendation, which was submitted in March 2017. No further action has been scheduled.

Back to July 2018 Washington Letter