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High Rate of Judicial Vacancies in Federal District Court Negatively Impacts System

Katherine Kirk Posted in Quality Judges

new report from the Brennan Center for Justice highlights the unprecedented number of judicial vacancies in federal district courts across the United States. Approximately ten percent of federal trial court seats are currently vacant. These vacancies, largely the result of drawn-out nomination and confirmation processes, have an increasingly negative impact on the effectiveness of both the criminal and civil justice systems. The report makes three observations about these vacancies. First, while administrations typically work to fill vacant seats immediately after elections, the Obama administration has not brought about a substantial decrease in the number of vacancies in its first term or in its second term to date. Second, these vacancies contribute to the fact that the average caseloads of individual judges were larger in 2012 than they have been since 1992. Third, districts with the most acute need for judges have reached their highest vacancy rate since 2002, placing the heaviest burden on the districts that need the most help. The Brennan Center calls for action from the President and the Senate to fill the current vacancies in order to alleviate these pressures and underscores the need to increase the number of judgeships across the country to adequately address the mounting workload of the courts.

Katherine Kirk is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.