Congressman Johnson Leads Introduction of District Court Judgeships Act of 2021

July 30, 2021
Press Release

Legislation would increase district court judgeships by more than 200 nationwide to address ‘crisis’ in lower courts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, led a coalition of Judiciary subcommittee chairs and members of the Judiciary Committee today introducing The District Court Judgeships Act of 2021 to address the massive case backlog due to a shortage of federal judges in districts across the country.

Judiciary co-leads include: Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33), Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Chair Shelia Jackson Lee (TX-18), Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Chair David Cicilline (RI-01).

The District Court Judgeships Act of 2021 would create 203 additional district court judgeships across 47 judicial districts.

In a February 2021 hearing Chairman Johnson held on the issue, judges called as witnesses said the lower courts are “at a breaking point” due to the shortage of judgeships and was causing “an erosion of trust in the judiciary and in the judicial process itself.”  Other federal judges warned that “this is not the judicial system that the United States Constitution envisions,” that “the status quo simply cannot meet the Constitutional mandate to administer meaningful justice for all of its citizens,” and that “we cannot fulfill our obligations without congressional action to create new judgeships.”

“Our lower courts, including in Georgia, are understaffed and overwhelmed,” said Rep. Johnson. “It’s causing massive backlogs and delays. This crisis is one that we can solve now – to have a functioning legal system, we must have an adequate number of judgeships. By adding federal judges through the District Court Judgeships Act of 2021, we hope to ensure Americans get their day in court and their matters adjudicated. Justice delayed is justice denied as far as I’m concerned.”

In the same 2021 hearing, another judge told Rep. Johnson and his colleagues the lack of any new judgeships is a matter of public safety, describing the “staggering increase” in their criminal caseloads. Because of the delays caused by the lack of new judgeships “criminal cases are drawn out, evidence grows stale, witness memories fade,” law enforcement resources are stretched thin, and communities are put at risk.

The last comprehensive judgeship legislation was enacted in 1990, and the number of district court judges has not increased at all since 2003.  This is the longest period in the country’s history that Congress has gone without authorizing any new district court judgeships.  Some districts have not had any new district judgeships since 1978. 

For decades, Congress and the Judicial Conference used a threshold of 400 case filings per judgeship when determining whether a judicial district needed additional judgeships.  In 1993, the Judicial Conference raised that threshold to 430 filings in an effort to control the growth of its judgeship recommendations. 

The federal docket has expanded dramatically since that time with filings now significantly higher in certain districts. 

The District Court Judgeships Act of 2021 reverts to the original standard of 400 case filings per judgeship to relieve these overburdened courts and improve access to justice. 

Original cosponsors include: Swalwell (CA-15), Cartwright (PA-08), Jones (NY-17), Butterfield (NC-01), Ross (NC-02), Jayapal (WA-07), Dean (PA-04), Neguse (CO-02), Deutch (FL-22), Demings (FL-10), Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Bass (CA-33).

Bill text available HERE.

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Date Roll Call Bill Vote
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8/23/2021 256 S.272 Yea