'In A Timely Manner': Three Decades Of Judgeship Bills

By Cara Bayles | March 19, 2019, 9:17 PM EDT

In the last three decades, there's been a sharp decline in the number of federal district court judgeships created by Congress.

Since the last omnibus judgeship bill passed in 1990, only three bills creating new judgeships have passed, creating a total of 31 permanent judgeships, compared to 394 over the prior 30 years. But the slowdown doesn't signal a lack of effort by some lawmakers.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle change positions based on whose party is in power. (Annie Pancak | Law360)

More than 130 federal district court judgeship bills have been proposed since 1990. Every few years, some have tried to pass so-called omnibus bills to no avail. Though two bills in 2004 and 2005 passed in one chamber, they expired without being voted on in the other.

One of the reasons is partisanship. New judgeships create new vacancies, and neither party wants to give the other the opportunity to fill them. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said there is a need for new judges and resisted giving the opposing party a chance to ameliorate the problem. Sometimes, one politician's position changes depending on who has the power to nominate new judges.

For example, while Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Congress ought to add bankruptcy judges to the bench "in a timely manner" during the Clinton administration, he said during the Trump administration that Congress ought to wait two years before adding more district court judges.

Cara Bayles is a feature reporter for Law360. She is co-author of our In-Depth report on the lack of new federal judgeships. Follow her on Twitter. Graphics by Chris Yates. Video by Annie Pancak. Editing by Jocelyn Allison, Katherine Rautenberg and John Campbell.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!