House Democrats Introduce Bill To Expand U.S. Appeals Courts

Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to add another 51 judges to the country’s federal appeals courts, a move they say is necessary to reduce case backlogs but that would also give President Joe Biden a chance to appoint more judges.

U.S. Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia on Wednesday led a group of seven Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives in introducing the Circuit Court Judgeships Act of 2022, which they said would address understaffed appellate courts nationally.

Johnson, who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, in a statement called the legislation necessary to relieve overburdened courts of appeals, which despite growing caseloads have not gained any new judges in over three decades.

Doing so would also benefit Democrats if they retained control of the Senate after the Nov. 8 midterm elections by allowing Biden to name a large number of judges to counter circuit court appointees of Republican President Donald Trump.

The bill echoes call by progressives to similarly expand the u.s. supreme court, thereby diluting its 6-3 conservative majority.

Johnson name-checked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from his home state and currently has four active judges named by Democrats, seven by Republicans and one vacancy. Six judges were named by Trump.

“Our circuit courts, including in the Eleventh Circuit, are overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “To have a functioning legal system, we must have an adequate number of judgeships.”

With the current Congress ending in several months, the bill is unlikely to become law.

Prior requests by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judiciary’s policymaking body, for more judges have focused on overwhelmed district courts. In March 2021, it recommended Congress add 79 new judges, only two at the appellate level.

While lawmakers in both parties have proposed legislation to expand the number of district court judges, no bill has passed. The last time Congress passed legislation to add more judges was in 1990.

Under Wednesday’s bill, eight circuits would gain judges including the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit, which would get 10 more, and the conservative-leaning New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with 13 new ones for 30 total.

Other big gainers under the bill would be the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which with 16 new judges would have 45 total, and the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would get another eight for 20 total.