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June 24, 2020

Federal Judiciary Needs Additional Resources

ABA urges swift congressional action

Earlier this month, the ABA expressed support for the Federal Judiciary's emergency supplemental funding request for $25 million.

Earlier this month, the ABA expressed support for the Federal Judiciary's emergency supplemental funding request for $25 million.

Earlier this month, the ABA expressed support for the Federal Judiciary's emergency supplemental funding request for $25 million and for conversion of temporary judgeships to permanent status. The ABA urged Congress to take prompt action on these requests to ensure that the courts have adequate resources to provide timely and impartial justice so that individuals and businesses can get back on solid ground and contribute to the restoration of the economy.

Like other institutions throughout the country, the operations of the federal courts have been severely disrupted by the pandemic as a result of the physical closing of courthouse doors for months. Although the Judiciary has developed new protocols and used technology to continue serving the public and performing its vital core functions, justice has been delayed in districts and circuits across the country. The case backlogs caused by the temporary shuttering of court facilities are destined to get considerably worse because the Judiciary will need to resolve an explosive number of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings resulting from the ongoing pandemic.

As the Judiciary prepares to reopen, it not only has to provide a safe environment for everyone who works in or enters court facilities, it also must have the resources needed to handle the inevitable increased workloads. The Judiciary requested emergency supplemental appropriations to help pay for personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of court facilities, health screenings at courthouse entrances, expansion of IT infrastructure and videoconferencing equipment, and increased costs associated with changes to probation and pretrial services supervision caused by COVID-19.

The Judiciary also proposed converting longstanding temporary Article III and bankruptcy judgeships to permanent status and authorizing additional Article III judgeships to provide the courts with the resources they need to continue operating effectively during and after this pandemic – requests that the ABA strongly supports.

The Judicial Conference submitted its most recent judgeship recommendation to Congress in March 2019. In that request, the Conference recommended that Congress authorize 70 new Article III judgeships and convert eight of the ten existing temporary district court judgeships to permanent status. In its current emergency request for resources, it asks to convert only eight temporary district court judgeships and to create seven new district court judgeships. The ABA letter contains a list of the requested conversions and new judgeships.

The Judiciary also is asking Congress to convert 14 temporary bankruptcy judgeships to permanent status. These conversions are necessary given the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expected growth in the number and complexity of bankruptcy cases has already been realized. And, according to financial experts, after the CARES Act stimulus payments are exhausted, the number of consumer cases will rise precipitously. All but one of the districts for which conversions are requested have needed additional bankruptcy judges since 2005 to handle swelling workloads.  

As pointed out by the Judicial Conference in its recent submission, “The expected increase in bankruptcy reorganization cases, particularly in Delaware, will likely result in a significant workload increase as these cases often involve very complex and time-consuming matters that require extensive judicial resources….Filings across the nation, including in each of the districts included in this request, are expected to increase significantly during the recovery from COVID-19.” Converting the requested temporary bankruptcy judgeships to permanent positions will help ensure that people will be able to receive timely assistance from the bankruptcy courts, which in turn, will help speed this nation’s economic recovery.

The Judiciary’s modest request for additional resources is distinguishable from all other supplemental COVID-19 related requests because it comes from a coequal branch of government with vast responsibilities. The ABA, therefore, is urging Congress to give this request priority consideration and take prompt action either in the next relief bill or through separate legislation to ensure that the Judiciary is able to serve the public and deliver justice in a timely manner during and after the pandemic.  Want to know more, follow us @ABAGrassroots.