The Judicial Conference of the United States is again pleading with Congress to add 65 new judgeships in 24 district courts across the country, including two permanent new judges in the Southern Indiana District Court.
Judge Brian Miller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on June 30 and presented the Judicial Conference’s recommendation for adding more judges to the federal courts. Along with the district courts, the conference is also recommending the addition of five judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Miller told Senators that the growth of case filings over the past three decades is outpacing the creation of new judgeships and producing negative effects for many courts.
“Increasing caseloads lead to significant delays in the consideration of cases, especially civil cases which may take years to get to trial,” Miller testified before the committee. “… Delays increase expenses for civil litigants and may increase the length of time criminal defendants are held pending trial.
“Substantial delays lead to lack of respect for the Judiciary and the judicial process,” Miller continued. “The problem is so severe the potential litigants may be avoiding federal court altogether.”
Currently, the standard used by the Judicial Conference is 430 weighted filings per judgeship. In applying that benchmark, the conference has determined 65 new district judges are needed but, underscoring the shortage, Miller noted even with the additional judges, 14 district courts would have 475 weighted filing per judgeship and 10 district courts would exceed 500 weighted filings per judgeship.
“The Judicial Conference does not recommend, need or want, indefinite growth in the number of judges,” Miller told the committee. “It recognizes that growth in the Judiciary must be carefully limited to the number of new judgeships that are necessary to exercise federal court jurisdiction. The Judicial Conference attempts to balance the need to control growth with the need to seek resources that are appropriate for the Judiciary’s caseload.”
Indiana’s Southern District has five authorized judgeships handling a weighted caseload of 1,090 filing per judge for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2020, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Indeed, the situation is so urgent in the Southern Indiana District that it was one of seven district courts the Judicial Conference requested Congress include in the creation of the new judgeships in the legislation passed earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, has advocated for additional judges in the Southern Indiana District Court, contacting leaders on the Judiciary Committee in November 2019. However, according to Miller’s testimony, of the smaller individual judgeships that have been introduced, none cover the Southern Indiana District Court bench.
The Judicial Conference has been pushing Congress for new judgeships since at least June 2018. At that time, the conference pointed to a March 2017 report that recommended 53 new judgeships in 23 district courts, including the Southern District of Indiana. Again in March 2019, the conference recommended the creation of 65 new district court judgeships.
Congress last passed a comprehensive judgeship bill in 1990, the Administrative Office for the U.S. Courts reported. Since that time, district court case filings had risen by 39% by the end of 2018 while case filings for the appellate courts increased by 15% during the same period.