Senate

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. 

Demand Justice sent a similar letter in December to Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (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 Trump’s hundreds of judges who were largely white, conservative and young. 

“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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (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 Cornyn (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.

Tags Charles Schumer Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Donald Trump John Cornyn Lindsey Graham

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