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Federal Judiciary Requests More Money, Judgeships to Handle Increasing Workload

Man holding wooden gavel in the hand
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on March 19, 2021 10:02 AM

An overburdened federal judiciary is requesting 79 new federal judgeships across the country even as courts begin to tackle the backlog of litigation arising from the pandemic. On Tuesday, March 16, the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended to Congress that it create as many as a dozen new positions in Texas and 11 in Florida, among others. It also recommended adding two judgeships on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Currently, there are 678 U.S. District Court judgeships and 179 federal appellate court judgeships. There has not been an additional judgeship created at the federal appellate level since 1990, although there have been transfers since that time.

The federal judiciary is also requesting more money to handle security after increased threats to federal judges and civil unrest led to damaged courthouses across the country.

Large Dockets, Little Time, Low Security

Unlike the Supreme Court, which has been the frequent target of reform for political reasons in the last year, the federal judiciary requested these additional positions solely to handle their increasing workload. Even with the pandemic reducing litigation, judges had more than 500 filings per judgeship in 2020. The Judicial Conference's budget committee also requested an increase of over 5%.

Some of that increase would go to security after a year in which federal judges' safety has been called into question. Judge Esther Salas, who sits on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, has called for a greater focus on judicial safety after her son was killed by a gunman at their front door. Judge Salas pointed out that security incidences targeting judges have risen to nearly 5,000 per year, up from hundreds only a few years ago.

Political Considerations Remain

The increasingly partisan nature of federal judicial appointments makes any increase in the federal judiciary an extremely political consideration. The Judicial Conference asked for five new judgeships in 2019 but significant opposition to increasing the number of judges on the traditionally liberal court met with backlash from Republicans in Congress.

Meanwhile, Congress has added funding for security systems at judges' homes, but failed to vote on a bill that would have protected judges' home addresses on the internet. The measure is widely expected to be introduced again this year.

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