The numbers supporting the push for more federal judges

On Tuesday, the Judicial Conference of the United States agreed to recommend to Congress to create 57 new federal judgeships — 5 in the circuit courts and 52 in the district courts.  The Conference further recommended that eight temporary or part-time district judgeships be converted to permanent status.

In its press release, the Conference emphasized the growth of the federal courts’ overall docket since 1990, when the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted.  In that quarter-century plus, district court filings have grown 38 percent (with nearly equal growth in criminal and civil filings), and appellate courts have grown by 40 percent.

But the recommendations are more narrowly tailored than a simply 40 percent boost in judges nationwide.  Only one of the thirteen appellate courts (the Ninth) is a suggested recipient of more judges, and only 27 of the 94 district courts are deemed to need new judgeships.

An examination of some of these targeted districts, and why it matters, after the jump.

The most significant recommendation is to add five new permanent judgeships to the Eastern District of California, which encompasses a vast geographical area from California’s northern border all the way down the interior of the state to Bakersfield.  That district is currently operating with only six authorized judgeships, notwithstanding that the filings on its civil docket are almost as high as that of the District of Arizona, which has 13 authorized judges.  The Eastern District of California also bears the fourth-highest level of weighted filings per judgeship, a measure of docket complexity and quantity.  On top of that, for much of the past decade, the Eastern District has led the country in bench presence, a measure of how much time a judge spends in courtroom, adjudicating issues in the public view.  By many important measures, the Eastern District has been punching above its weight for many years.  It clearly deserves more judicial help.

A similar recommendation was made to add six new judgeships to the Middle District of Florida, expanding its number from 15 to 21.  That district faced nearly 10,000 civil case filings–one of the largest civil dockets anywhere in the country–and nearly 1400 criminal filings for Fiscal Year 2016.  And the Western District of Texas, for which four new judgeships are recommended, faced a criminal docket of nearly 6,800 filings last year: a district-wide criminal docket larger than the entire criminal docket of all but four circuits.

Given the workload, more judges are clearly in order.

Even if Congress creates the requested new judgeships, however, the transition will not be seamless.  New judges will need to be nominated and conformed, trained, and acculturated.  There would be significant organizational growing pains, consistent with those experienced by any organization nearing 1000 core employees and seeking increase its core workforce by nearly 10 percent.  More on the organizational impact of new judges in a future post.


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