FEDERAL COURTS SEE SLIGHT EASING OF NEW CASELOADS
Judiciary to ask Congress for 67 more judgeships
Pamela A. MacLean The National Law Journal March 27, 2007
Federal caseloads have risen 27 percent in the last decade and the judiciary will ask Congress for 67 new judgeships. But at least in the short term, the pressure appears to have eased in the last year, with court statistics showing a drop in new appeals, bankruptcy filings and new criminal cases.
More than 66,600 federal appeals and 1.1 million bankruptcy cases were filed in fiscal year 2006. District courts nationally saw 259,500 civil and 66,800 criminal cases filed, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Despite the impressive numbers, bankruptcy filings were off 38 percent from a year earlier, appeals court filings dropped 3 percent and new criminal cases were off 4 percent. Only new civil filings were up 3 percent nationally, according to the court’s records, and nearly all of that was attributable to the addition of 14,000 asbestos cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The drop in federal appeals was attributed to fewer immigration appeals and a decline in criminal appeals as the courts resolved a crush of resentencing requests in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), according to the administrative office.
Chief Judge Mary Schroeder of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the national numbers do not reflect the situation in her circuit, the nation’s largest, where immigration appeals continue to flood the court. “Our filings are way up as a result of immigration cases and we haven’t added a judge since 1984,” she said.
MORE JUDGES SOUGHT
Last week, the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body of the federal judiciary, voted to ask Congress to create 67 new judgeships — 15 appeals judges and 52 district judges.
In announcing the decision, the panel noted that Congress has not added to the 179 appeals judges in 17 years, even though filings have jumped 55 percent since 1990.
Yet winning new judges won’t be easy.
“More than even that data is politics right now,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. “The president has only nominated four new people to fill judicial vacancies since the election, and Congress has not moved on judges,” he said.
In addition, Congress is distracted with the U.S. Department of Justice’s firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. He said there is only a slim chance of new judgeships passing. “Democrats will not want to give President Bush the opportunity to fill 67 judgeships,” Tobias said.
Among the appeals courts, the 9th Circuit would receive the most: seven of the 15 additional appeals seats, five permanent and two temporary judgeships.
The recommendation for new judges would bolster the states that border Mexico with large immigration caseloads. The largest gainers would be Arizona, the Los Angeles-based Central District of California, the Middle District of Florida and the Central Valley area of California, each of which would receive an additional four permanent judgeships.
Schroeder said the Central Valley of California has one of the highest caseloads per judge of any in the United States due to prisoner habeas, death penalty and immigration cases.
The judgeship request comes at a time when the number of immigration-related criminal prosecutions nationally has declined: down by 18 percent from a year ago, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University in New York.
Although the TRAC analysis was quick to point out that prosecutions over the past year were still much higher than five years ago. Overall, prosecutions of immigration-related crimes are up 123 percent since 2001, according to TRAC.