The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on June 30, 2020, to discuss the Judicial Conference of the United States’ most recent recommendations for more federal judgeships. The Judicial Conference has recommended a third judgeship for Idaho consistently since 2003. As a member of the Committee, I reiterated the need to put aside partisan differences and create a third federal district judgeship in Idaho to meet this increasing judicial need.
As I stressed during the hearing, Idaho is in a precarious position with only two authorized federal judges, and faces further difficulties and shortages with current judges reaching retirement eligibility. Idaho is one of only three states that only has two authorized judgeships. Idaho was allocated its two federal judges positions when the state had a population of 600,000 people. Today, the population of the state is nearly 1.7 million people--nearly three times higher. Yet, we still only have two judgeships. The criminal caseload, according to the Clerk of Courts for the District of Idaho, has increased by 58 percent in the last few years. Idaho has to rely on visiting judges to meet caseload needs.
The Judicial Conference reviews and evaluates Article III of our Constitution judgeship needs and makes recommendations on where to add judgeships to the courts of appeals and district courts. The Judicial Council included information about the following considerations in its preliminary or final report when recommending a third judgeship for Idaho:
- Idaho’s overall case filings rose 14 percent between September 2017 and June 2018 due to increases in both civil and criminal felony filings;
- Idaho’s case filings per judgeship were 565 in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2018;
- Idaho’s criminal filings per judgeship are nearly twice the national average at 221 per judgeship, the 6th highest in the nation;
- Twenty-five visiting judges provided assistance with civil and criminal cases, jury trials, sentencings and other proceedings in 2017; and
- The court requested the third judgeship based on its heavy criminal felony docket, population growth and significant geographic factors, resulting in extensive travel for the court’s two judges among the various divisions in order to manage the caseload.
In March, I spoke directly with Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) regarding Idaho’s judicial emergency and the requisite to enact legislation that provides Idaho the additional judgeship it so desperately needs. Fellow Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I introduced S. 103 earlier this Congress to establish an additional federal district judgeship in Idaho for the first time in more than 60 years. Representatives Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) also introduced a counterpart to this legislation, H.R. 214, in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The need for an additional judge in Idaho has been widely recognized for years, and we must address this judicial crisis. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle for enactment of legislation that enables a third judgeship position for Idaho to help ensure effective access to the courts for Idaho’s increasing population.