03.13.08

the introduction of the “Federal Judgeship Act of 2008”

Leahy, Hatch, Feinstein, Schumer Introduce Bill To Increase Federal Judgeships And Help Reduce Judicial Backlogs

WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 13, 2008) – Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today introduced legislation designed to ease caseloads for Federal judges by adding new seats at the Federal district and circuit court levels.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the Federal Judgeship Act of 2008 to help lighten the caseload of sitting Federal judges.  The bill is the first comprehensive judgeships legislation in nearly 20 years, and would meet the needs of circuits and districts overwhelmed by growing caseloads.

The bill would add 12 permanent seats to U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and 38 permanent seats to U.S. District Courts across the country.  It would also make permanent five temporary judgeships, one each in Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico.  In addition, the bill would create two temporary seats in the Ninth Circuit and 14 temporary district court seats in 12 different states.  It would also extend a district court judgeship in Ohio.  The changes would take effect the day after the inauguration of the next president.

“Federal courts protect our most cherished liberties and rights,” said Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “In order to safeguard these rights, our Federal courts must have an adequate number of judges to deliver justice in the most efficient way.  This bipartisan effort is long overdue.”


“The Federal courts in California shoulder a heavy caseload,” said Feinstein.  “The Ninth Circuit consistently has one of the highest caseloads of any federal appeals court, but no new seats have been filled on the circuit since 1984.  The district courts also handle a heavy load of cases -- and these are the courts that help keep us safe by dispensing justice to the most dangerous criminals.  We should give these courts the judges they need.  By creating new judgeships, this bill will improve the administration of justice in California.”

“Federal judges play an important role acting as the guardians of our judicial system, but their heavy caseload is handicapping our courts,” Schumer said.  “This legislation will ensure that more federal judges are on the look-out, protecting our most prized rights. We can't afford to be undermanned in the effort to uphold the rule of law. ”

 

The Federal Judgeship Act is introduced at a time when caseloads for Federal judges near record highs.  In 2006, a single district court judge faced an average of 464 cases, while three-judge panels at the circuit court level averaged close 1,230 cases.  The numbers are well above the standard set by the Judicial Conference, which supports the legislation.

 

The last comprehensive bill to address rising caseloads in both circuit and district courts was passed in 1990 and established 11 additional circuit court judgeships, and 61 permanent and 13 temporary district court judgeships.   

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the introduction of the “Federal Judgeship Act of 2008”

March 13, 2008

 

Today, I join with Senator Hatch to introduce a bipartisan bill to address the resource needs of our men and women on the Federal judiciary and people around the country by authorizing additional U.S. courts of appeals and district court judgeships.   It has been

18 years since the last time a comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted to address the growth in the workload of the Federal judiciary by adding new Federal judgeships.  That legislation established 11 additional circuit court judgeships and 61 permanent and 13 temporary district court judgeships.  

 

Since 1990, case filings in our Federal appellate courts have increased by 55 percent and case filings on our district courts have risen by 29 percent.  Without a comprehensive bill, Congress has proceeded to authorize only a few additional district court judgeships and extend temporary judgeships when it could.  For instance, in 2002 we were able to provide for 15 new judgeships in the Department of Justice authorization bill.  However no additional circuit court judgeships have been created since 1990 despite their increased workload. 

 

In 2006, the weighted number of filings in district courts, which takes into account an assessment of case complexity, were 464 per judgeship, well above the Judicial Conference’s standard.  The same year, the national average circuit court caseload per three-judge panel approached the record number of 1,230 cases, recorded a year earlier. 

 

Our Federal judges are working harder than ever, but in order to maintain the integrity of the Federal courts and the promptness that justice demands, judges must have a manageable workload.  The bill that we are introducing today would add 12 permanent circuit court judgeships, 38 permanent district court judgeships, and convert five existing temporary judgeships into permanent positions.  These additional judgeships would address the significant increase in caseloads that the Federal courts have seen over the nearly two decades since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted.  It is based on the recommendations of the Judicial Conference and its analysis of caseloads and needs.  

 

Our bipartisan bill would also add 14 temporary district court judgeships, two temporary circuit court judgeships, and extend one existing temporary district court judgeship.  These additional temporary judgeships allow Congress some flexibility with regard to future judgeship needs.  If caseloads continue to increase, Congress has the option to introduce legislation making permanent or renewing these temporary judgeships.

 

By providing that these new judgeships become effective the day after the inauguration of the next President, we attempt to insulate this effort from partisan politics.   

 

This bill has the support of the Judicial Conference and Senators on both sides of the aisle.  I thank Senators Feinstein and Schumer for joining us in this effort.  A comprehensive bill to respond to the increasing workload of our Federal judiciary is long overdue.

 

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