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Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts

Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts
© Greg Nash

Support is building among progressive groups for expanding the lower courts, just as Congress is poised to dig into the issue.  

Progressive groups sent a letter, organized by Demand Justice, to the House Judiciary subcommittee, which will hold a hearing Wednesday on creating new federal judgeships for the lower courts. 

"Our overwhelmed judicial branch is indeed a crisis decades in the making ... Because our judiciary has too few judges, struggling to manage too many cases, the administration of justice is being undermined in this country," they wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill. 

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Demand Justice sent a similar letter in December to Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure MORE (R-S.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHeat wave sparks historically unseasonable wildfires in West Energized Trump probes pose problems for Biden Granholm defends US emissions targets: 'If we don't take action, where are we?' MORE (D-Calif.), who were the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. 

But 21 new groups signed onto the letter that went to the House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday — including the Center for American Progress, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — underscoring the boost in support.  

The Judicial Conference, a policymaking body for the judiciary that is overseen by Chief Justice John Roberts, recommended in 2019 that Congress create five new seats for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and 65 new positions for the district courts. 

The progressive groups, however, are urging lawmakers to go beyond the recommendations, calling them "insufficient" to match the United States's growth in population and the increase in caseloads. 

"Adding judgeships to the lower courts would not only relieve unmanageable caseloads and overworked judges, but would also lay the groundwork for reforms needed to correct for inequalities that plague our system," the groups wrote, referencing former President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE's hundreds of judges who were largely white, conservative and young. 

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"Congress’ failure to add new judgeships for decades is the exception, not the norm, and the historic crisis we face warrants immediate action by this Committee. We are currently living in the longest period of time with no major increase in judgeships since the creation of our modern judicial system in 1891," they added. 

Though expanding the Supreme Court sparks partisan divisions in Congress, expanding the lower courts could garner bipartisan support.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick Durbin'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden administration to back bill ending crack, powder cocaine sentence disparity: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats await Manchin decision on voting rights bill MORE (D-Ill.) both appeared open last month to creating new seats, though they didn't get into specifics.  

Durbin noted at the time that a GOP senator had raised the idea with him. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Cornyn calls on Biden and Harris to visit southern border: 'Y'all come visit' Progressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster MORE (R-Texas), specifying that he was not the Republican lawmaker who spoke to Durbin, also said he was open to talking about the issue. 

“My state’s a big, growing state, and we’ve got huge caseloads. ... I’d be open to having a conversation about that,” Cornyn said.