Good afternoon and please come to order. Welcome to this hearing of the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts.
America's federal courts serve as a model for courts around the world. For a variety of reasons, our federal judiciary is without equal. Presidential appointment and lifetime tenure insulate judges from political influence. Senate advice and consent helps guarantee minimum competence and is itself strengthened by the work of key institutional players, such as the American Bar Association, which publishes non-partisan opinions as to the qualifications of nominees. And, fortunately, a federal judicial appointment carries with it sufficient prestige to lure away many talented nominees who could earn more money in the private sector or in academic work.
It is because of the quality of our judiciary that John Adams' vision that the United States be "a government of laws and not men" still holds true today. It is the role of the judiciary to determine each case according to the law, not according to popularity, political influence, money, or the whims of the public. It is the federal judiciary that protects the least of us against abuse of our civil rights and liberties, whether by the government or another private party.
We must not, however, take our federal judiciary for granted. As Chief Justice Roberts noted in his 2010 year end report on the judiciary, "the judiciary depends not only on funding, but on its judges, to carry out [its] mission." Unfilled vacancies have led judges in many districts to be "burdened with extraordinary caseloads."
So, too, does insufficient statutory authorization for judgeships burden our courts.
Judges on the Eastern District of California, however, which has long been recognized as one of the most overburdened in the nation, would still face over 1000 weighted case filings per judge even if the vacancy on that court were filled immediately. In my own home in the District of Delaware, judges face weighted filings of over 1500 per judge and there are no vacancies left to fill on that court. As a point of reference, the Judicial Conference generally believes that additional judicial resources are necessary when weighted filings approach 500 per judgeship.
Senior judges, who are eligible for their pensions but agree to forego potentially lucrative outside employment opportunities or more time with their families, continue to hear cases, and are vital in filling the current gaps. But senior judges are in effect providing charity to our government out of their commitment to public service and their colleagues, and cannot be the foundation of a responsible long-term judicial staffing model.
Overburdened judges, almost by definition, cannot provide the level of time, and care, and reflection they would like to for each case before them. Moreover, and especially in a time of stagnant judicial compensation, they reduce the esprit de corps of the judiciary and make it marginally more difficult to attract the best and the brightest to serve.
Congress has not comprehensively addressed judicial staffing levels since 1990, 23 years ago. Over that time, caseloads have risen nearly 40% yet authorized staffing levels have risen by just 4%. Put another way, trial court weighted filings per judgeship have risen from 386 in 1991 to roughly 520 today. Those national figures mask the dire circumstances faced by the most burdened districts, such as the Eastern District of Texas, the District of Delaware, and the Eastern District of California.
That is why Senator Leahy and I have introduced the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013. This bill is based on the recommendations of the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States, led by Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts. It would create six new judgeships in two courts of appeals and 85 new judgeships in 29 district courts, for 91 judgeships overall.
This bill would provide much-needed relief to our overburdened courts, ensuring that they are better prepared to administer justice quickly and efficiently. Increasing the number of judgeships will help cases move more quickly, reduce uncertainty that prevents businesses from creating jobs, and permit every American who has been wronged to get his or her day in court on a reasonable timeline.
I look forward to the testimony today of our eminently qualified panel which will shed greater light on what the judiciary's need for additional resources is, and what it would do if forced to go without.