Judicial Vacancies Slow the Wheels of Justice

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As the Senate prepares to vote on whether Elena Kagan should fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, there remain a substantial number of other vacancies in the nation’s lower federal courts that urgently need filling.

Currently, there are about 100 vacancies in the lower federal courts. The American Bar Association says the lack of judges is affecting the efficiency and fairness of the justice system.

ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm said, “Our courts are already terribly strained at the federal level because of the caseload and the workload, and when you’re a hundred justices down…that’s a big gap.  We have speedy trial rules that require them to put criminal cases first.  As a result, all of the civil proceedings are put off and there is a real gap in terms of a significant delay as a result of the vacancies. It is edging toward a crisis not to have a full bench.”

Even if all the vacancies were filled, said Lamm, a significant number of new judgeships would still be necessary to handle caseload growth.  In fact, the Judicial Conference of the United States is recommending 67 new permanent and temporary judgeships. 

Beyond the existing 100 vacancies, more than 20 additional judges have announced that they will retire in the next several months. Since the start of the 111th Congress, President Obama has made 78 nominations to fill the empty seats, and the Senate has confirmed 36 of the nominees.  

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