05.15.08

Judiciary Committee Reports Bill To Increase Federal Judgeships

The Senate Judiciary Committee today reported a bill introduced by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to increase Federal judgeships and help reduce judicial backlogs in districts across the country.

The bipartisan Federal Judgeship Act of 2008 was introduced by Leahy in March, and is cosponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and more than a dozen other Senators.  Congress has not passed a bill since 1990 to address the increasing needs of both circuit and district courts across the country.  The bill will create 50 new permanent seats on the Federal bench.

The bill reflects the latest official recommendations of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy making body of the federal courts. Since the last comprehensive judgeship bill became law 18 years ago, filings in the courts of appeals have grown by 55 percent, and district court case filings have risen by 29 percent.  The Federal Judgeship Act responds to the needs of districts based on weighted case filings and assistance from senior and magistrate judges, caseload complexity and temporary caseload increases or decreases.

“Now is the best time to enact a bill to establish new judgeships across the country, before anyone knows who the next President will be,” said Leahy.  “This bipartisan measure will help ensure that Americans have prompt access to the courts by alleviating backlogs in overburdened districts.  I hope the Senate will respond to the resource needs of our co-equal branch of government without further delay.”

The Federal Judgeship Act would create 12 new permanent seats on the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal and 38 permanent seats on U.S. District Courts across the country. It would also make permanent five temporary district court judgeships.  The bill would create two temporary Ninth Circuit judgeships and 14 temporary district court seats. 

Caseloads for Federal judges are nearing record highs.  In 2006, a district court judge faced an average of 464 cases, while three-judge panels at the circuit court level averaged 1,197 cases.  These numbers are well above the appropriate standard set by the Judicial Conference.

If enacted, the new judgeships would take effect the day after the inauguration of the next president.

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