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House Democrats move to add 203 U.S. trial court judgeships

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The United States Capitol Dome is seen before dawn in Washington March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

  • California, Texas, New Jersey and Florida would see benches grow by double digits
  • U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, leading effort, cites 'crisis' from growing caseloads
  • Adding trial judges has garnered bipartisan support in recent years

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(Reuters) - A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday would add 203 federal trial court positions in districts around the country, a measure to alleviate what sponsors of the legislation called a "crisis" of growing caseloads.

California, New Jersey, Texas and Florida would see the largest number of new judges if the legislation is signed into law. The proposed expansion goes even farther than a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday that would establish 77 new judgeships.

The House bill would add 16 judges to the Central District of California, which includes Los Angeles, and 13 judges to the District of New Jersey. Twelve new judges would join Florida's Southern District, which includes Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The Western District of Texas, which includes Austin and San Antonio, would receive 11 new judges, and the state's Eastern District, which includes Plano, would get 10 additional judges.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, is lead sponsor of the legislation. "Our lower courts, including in Georgia, are understaffed and overwhelmed," Johnson said in a statement. "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."

Republicans and Democrats have both pushed over the years to add federal trial judges. Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California in 2018 introduced a bill that would have added 52 district judges, but the measure did not pass out of the committee stage.

The Senate bill was introduced by Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana.

Johnson's office said no new district court judges have been added since 2003.

The federal judiciary in March recommended the additionof 77 new judgeships for 26 district courts. Judiciary officials have identified 37 "judicial emergencies," a designation that takes into account filings per judgeship in a district.

Several federal judges testified in February at the House Judiciary Committee about the workload stress in their districts.

"The bottom line of my testimony today is that we cannot fulfill our obligations without congressional action to create new judgeships. We urgently ask for your help to meet the needs of the public we serve," Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California, home to Sacramento, told the committee. The new bill would add seven judges to Mueller's district.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller of the Eastern District of Arkansas, representing the Judicial Conference of the United States, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2020 the rise in immigration-related cases has been "staggering" in recent years.

"The Judicial Conference does not recommend, need or want, indefinite growth in the number of judges," he said. "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."

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