This week, we saw just how far Senate Republicans are willing to go to stop the confirmation of federal judges and keep America’s courts from functioning properly. Unfortunately, newly released information shows that the number of cases before our nation’s trial courts continues to increase, even though there are fewer and fewer judges available to hear them.
The Administrative Office of United States Courts has released its caseload statistics for fiscal year 2011. In a news release entitled Federal District Court Workload Increases in Fiscal Year 2011, the Office reports:
Civil case filings grew 2 percent for the second consecutive year, up 6,357 cases to 289,252. The increase was caused by a 2 percent rise in federal question cases – i.e. actions under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States in which neither the United States itself nor any of its agencies and offices is a party in the case. The growth in federal question filings stemmed from increases of 5 percent in civil rights cases, 15 percent in consumer credit filings and 11 percent in intellectual property cases. For example, civil rights filings related to the Americans with Disabilities Act rose 17 percent; intellectual property rights filings involving patents jumped 24 percent.
Almost 300,000 cases were filed in our federal district courts. At the same time, there are so few judges available to handle the caseload that we are experiencing the worst sustained judicial vacancy crisis in at least 35 years. In fact, 35 vacancies have been formally declared judicial emergencies, a number that has hardly changed from six months ago because Republicans refuse to allow timely votes on judicial nominations.
Republican efforts to sabotage the work of the Judiciary Committee and prevent timely floor votes are made even more damaging by the rising number of cases Americans are filing in our federal courts.