Sens. Christopher Coons and Patrick Leahy, both on the Judiciary Committee, have introduced a bill to add more than 90 new judgeships to the federal courts. In a development that may have been shocking to Chuck Grassley (for reasons explained below), they have based their bill on publicly available information and a formal request by the nation's judges made publicly and, most importantly, not anonymously.
The bill follows the recommendations made earlier this year by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the official policymaking body concerned with the administration of our country's federal courts. The Judicial Conference made its recommendations based on comprehensive analysis of the caseloads and working conditions at every federal circuit and district court in the United States. And they made their recommendations publicly.
Ordinarily, that last bit would not be worth pointing out. However, it is now, since Chuck Grassley surprised people at a committee hearing last week by citing statements – given anonymously and from as few as two DC Circuit judges (we don't know how many because Grassley has not told us) – to justify his assertion that the DC Circuit's caseload does not warrant allowing President Obama to fill any of its three current vacancies.
The Coons-Leahy bill, following the non-anonymous public recommendation of the Judicial Conference, would make two proposed changes to the circuit courts: The Sixth Circuit would get one new judgeship, and the Ninth Circuit would get five new judgeships (one of which would be temporary).
This is a contrast to Sen. Grassley's misnamed Court Efficiency Act, which would strip three currently vacant judgeships from the DC Circuit so that President Obama could not fill them, while adding unneeded and un-requested seats to the Second and Eleventh Circuits. The Grassley bill is a transparent partisan effort to rig the DC Circuit.
Coons and Leahy's idea is not radical: The Senate should act on documented facts and a public record rather than on carefully selected anonymous statements from otherwise unreleased documents.