Federal Courts and Nominations

CAC Statement: Hearing on “The Need for New Lower Court Judgeships, 30 Years in the Making”

The Constitution guarantees all persons the ability to vindicate their rights in court. When the Constitution was drafted, the promise of access to federal courts was at the heart of a new system of government accountable to the people. In Article III, the Framers created the federal judiciary as a co-equal branch of government vested with the power of expounding what the law means in the context of cases and controversies. Article III’s grant of judicial power was viewed as critical to enforce the Constitution’s limits and maintain the supremacy of federal law. In designing the federal judiciary, the Framers sought to ensure that the power of the federal courts was co-extensive with Congress’s legislative power under Article I. However, in recent years, Congress has weakened the power of the federal judiciary by not providing for staffing sufficient to ensure this co-equal branch of government can meet the challenge of rising caseloads. As a result, judges are overworked, and litigants can experience long delays when seeking justice. These delays undermine justice, equality, and confidence in our judicial system.

The courts play a critical role in people’s lives and in our society. From the air they breathe to the water they drink, from protecting their rights to holding bad actors accountable, the judiciary affects the lives of people in this country every day. In particular, the lower courts play a crucial role. The Supreme Court decides very few cases a year. The roughly 7,000-8,000 petitions for Supreme Court review each year amount to less than 2% of the cases filed in our federal lower courts, and of these petitions, the high court grants certiorari in roughly 80, meaning approximately 1%. Thus, annually, the Supreme Court hears .02% of the cases filed in our federal courts. So, for the vast majority of federal court litigants, a decision in district court or a decision in one of 13 courts of appeals is the end of the line.

Because of the important role the courts play, ensuring the judiciary has adequate capacity to dispense equal justice is a critical congressional role in the constitutional design created by the Framers. Congress has the enumerated constitutional power and obligation through the Necessary and Proper Clause to ensure the federal judiciary is equipped to carry out its Article III mandate to dispense fair and impartial justice. Doing so ensures that all those who walk through the courthouse doors to vindicate their rights in court can do so in a timely fashion. Congress has exercised this constitutional power and fulfilled its ongoing constitutional duty several times since the creation of our modern judicial system in 1891.

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