House Democrats introduce bill to expand U.S. appeals courts

  • House Democrats propose adding 51 judges to eight circuit courts
  • Circuit courts have not gained new judges in over three decades

(Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to add another 51 judges to the country's federal appeals courts, a move they say is necessary to reduce case backlogs but that would also give President Joe Biden a chance to appoint more judges.

U.S. Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia on Wednesday led a group of seven Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives in introducing the Circuit Court Judgeships Act of 2022, which they said would address understaffed appellate courts nationally.

Johnson, who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, in a statement called the legislation necessary to relieve overburdened courts of appeals, which despite growing caseloads have not gained any new judges in over three decades.

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Doing so would also benefit Democrats if they retained control of the Senate after the Nov. 8 midterm elections by allowing Biden to name a large number of judges to counter circuit court appointees of Republican President Donald Trump.

The bill echoes calls by progressives to similarly expand the U.S. Supreme Court, thereby diluting its 6-3 conservative majority.

Johnson name-checked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from his home state and currently has four active judges named by Democrats, seven by Republicans and one vacancy. Six judges were named by Trump.

"Our circuit courts, including in the Eleventh Circuit, are overwhelmed," Johnson said. "To have a functioning legal system, we must have an adequate number of judgeships."

With the current Congress ending in several months, the bill is unlikely to become law. In the Senate, it would need 10 Republicans to pass.

Carrie Severino, the president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, in a statement said the Democrats' interest in adding judges under Biden "says everything about their motivation and willingness to carry water for left-wing dark money groups seeking to undermine our judiciary."

While the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judiciary's policymaking body, has requested Congress approve 84 more judges, only two would be at the appellate level, with the rest in overwhelmed district courts.

Under Wednesday's bill, eight circuits would gain judges including the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit, which would get 10 more, and the conservative-leaning New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with 13 new ones for 30 total.

Other big gainers under the bill would be the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which with 16 new judges would have 45 total, and the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would get another eight for 20 total.

Read more:

Judiciary presses Congress for more judgeships, with bullseye on California

White House commission on Supreme Court reforms sees risks in expanding court

(NOTE: This story has updated with comment from the Judicial Crisis Network.)

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.