Indiana senator wants to expand Southern District bench

Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young is pushing his colleagues on Capitol Hill to authorized additional judgeships to the Southern Indiana District Court, something they have not done since 1978.

The graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law has spoken with the Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. Also, in November, he sent a letter to the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, highlighting the need for more judges in Southern Indiana and other district courts.

“… (I)t has been over a decade and a half since Congress last authorized additional district judgeships and the time is ripe to establish new judgeships in districts with the worst backlogs,” Young wrote to Feinstein.

According to his office, Young is trying to facilitate a bipartisan agreement. If an agreement is reached, then he would move forward and file legislation.

The shortage on the bench in some federal courts is well-known, particularly in the Southern Indiana District, which has long struggled under a heavy caseload.

Most recently, in March 2019, the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended Congress create new judgeships in the Southern Indiana District as well as district courts in other locations, including Central California, Western Texas, and Middle Florida. Also, in March 2018, Jane Magnus-Stinson, chief judge of the Southern Indiana District Court, met with the Indiana congressional delegation but was told new judgeships were unlikely given the current political climate.

Young, in his letter to Feinstein, invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King.

“As Martin Luther King wrote in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied,’” Young wrote. “In my home state of Indiana, the outstanding caseload remains high for litigants who are forced to wait too long to have their day in court. Continued delays throughout the court system challenge the very foundation of America’s democracy.”

A September 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service noted the Southern Indiana federal court has five judgeships and 1,058 weighted filings annually per judge.

Two years ago, the Indianapolis-based court was flooded with more than 2,200 personal injury product liability filings related to a multidistrict litigation, according to the report. Also, a 4% decline in civil cases, such as Social Security appeals, civil-rights cases and federal prisoner petitions, was offset by an increase in state prison petitions. Moreover, criminal felony filings rose 16% almost entirely because of a 63% increase in firearms prosecutions, the report stated.

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