Federal Judicial System – Emergency Vacancies Looming Large

With all the blather going on about the Hawaiian and Maryland district judges and their behavior, I decided a closer look at the system was of interest. Also I saw a “news” article noting that Trump was going to have a large amount of judgeships to fill and how it would be a big turnover to add conservative judges. So I went hunting for the best source of information. The US court system has a very informative website for all things about federal judgeship. Those interested in trivia, a more honorable court, and swifter justice system may find the following interesting.

Have you ever had a reason to question a Federal judge’s conduct or wondered why justice takes so long to clear the system?

There are two main judgeships — resident and senior– and if needed a visiting judge can help. The federal judiciary operates separately from the executive and legislative branches, but often works with them as the Constitution requires. Federal laws are passed by Congress and signed by the President. The judicial branch decides the constitutionality of federal laws and resolves other disputes about federal laws. However, judges depend on our government’s executive branch to enforce court decisions. Judgeships are lifetime appointments or until the judge moves up or moves out.

There are 13 appellate courts that sit below the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals.  The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.

A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The nation’s 94 district or trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.

Code of Conduct for Judges – JCUS-APR 73, pp. 9-11 and its changes

This Code applies to United States circuit judges, district judges, Court of International Trade judges, Court of Federal Claims judges, bankruptcy judges, and magistrate judges. Certain provisions of this Code apply to special masters and commissioners as indicated in the “Compliance” section. The Tax Court, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces have adopted this Code.

Introduction – The Canons are rules of reason. They should be applied consistently with constitutional requirements, statutes, other court rules and decisional law, and in the context of all relevant circumstances.

Canon 1: A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards, so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.

Canon 2: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities
(A) Respect for Law. A judge should respect and comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
(B) Outside Influence.
-A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.
-A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
(C) Nondiscriminatory Membership. A judge should not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.

Canon 3: A Judge Should Perform the Duties of the Office Fairly, Impartially and Diligently
(A) Adjudicative Responsibilities.
(1) A judge should be faithful to, and maintain professional competence in, the law and should not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.
(C) Disqualification.
(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,…

Canon 4: A Judge May Engage in Extrajudicial Activities That are Consistent With the Obligations of Judicial Office
A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, including law-related pursuits and civic, charitable, educational, religious, social, financial, fiduciary, and governmental activities, and may speak, write, lecture, and teach on both law-related and nonlegal subjects.

However, a judge should not participate in extrajudicial activities that detract from the dignity of the judge’s office, interfere with the performance of the judge’s official duties, reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality, lead to frequent disqualification, or violate the limitations.

Canon 5: A Judge Should Refrain From Political Activity
The term “political organization” refers to a political party, a group affiliated with a political party or candidate for public office, or an entity whose principal purpose is to advocate for or against political candidates or parties in connection with elections for public office.

So if as rumored, Obama specifically went to Hawaii and “accidentally” met with the district judge then turned around and flew to another location, this judge in particular should have disqualified himself from the court unless both parties did not object.

In a totally different section, there are several data documents that are also interesting.

1-The President is required to nominate federal judges and the Senate has to confirm them one by one based on their merits.

2-Reagan confirmed the highest number of judges of all Presidents at 384. Bush 2001 and Obama each confirmed 330 and 331 respectively as the next highest. No one else came close to those figures.

3-Trump at this moment has 123 vacancies for judgeship including the current one for Supreme Court to fill with an additional 13 pending who have put in for various reasons such as retiring or quitting. There are currently no judges’ names provided for consideration.

4-There are 48 vacancies that have been deemed emergencies to be filled. Most critical are nine vacancies that have been open between 1,000-2,000 days, two that have been open between 2,000-3,000 days, and one that has been open over 4,000 days. Obama never bothered or the Senate shelved those confirmations even up to January 1, 2017.

5-In all Congress has authorized judgeships of only 179 Court of Appeals, 677 District and Territorial, 9 Trade, 16 Federal Claims and 9 Supreme Court.

6-There are 95 judge positions not filled in District and 19 needing to be filled in Court of Appeals.

7-The total circuit court case participation has its own data pdf but in 2016 the total cases amounted to just over 100,000. About 79 percent of those were in front of resident judges, 18 percent in front of senior judges, and 3 percent were heard by visiting judges. That is a huge case load for judges to deal with efficiently and thoughtfully. The number has varied over the years but been increasingly higher though the percentages seem relatively the same. In 2015, there were 92,010 cases. Nothing was mentioned about holdovers year to year though I know some do seem to continue for years.


So while Trump does have a pretty full judgeship ticket to fill, what we all should look at are the ones Obama submitted and Senate confirmed. Their cases and decisions have consequences that will affect our legal system for many years to come unless overturned just as those of any incompetent or corrupt judge can do.

It also needs to be a congressional priority for the proper committees to review and decide if the amount of judges needed is adequate, if competent constitutionally sound decisions are made, or if caseloads are overburdening the system and judges, especially if the constitutionally guaranteed rights of those before the court are in jeopardy.



If you doubt the veracity of an out-of-control judicial branch, read the following from WND.




About Uriel

Retired educator and constitutionalist
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