March 28, 2011

Pa. Federal Court District Turns to Senior Judges in Effort to Keep Courts Running

Access to Justice, judicial nominations, judicial vacanices, Middle District of Pennsylvania, rising case loads, senior judges, The Courts

As noted earlier this month federal courts across the country are in dire need of judges due to increasing vacancies that are not being filled by the U.S. Senate, causing senior judges to work longer and shoulder larger case loads.

"Nationwide, senior judges handle 21 percent of the federal court's caseload," The Patriot News (PN), a Pennsylvania broadsheet, reports. "In the Middle District of Pennsylvania, eight of the 11 sitting judges are seniors. The longest-serving senior judge in the district, William J. Nealon, joined the bench in 1962."

The newspaper highlights several of the district's senior judges, such as U.S. Middle District Judge Malcolm Muir, 96, who is "inundated with Social Security appeals."

"It is likely that without Muir and other senior judges, the federal court system would implode," the PN states.

Another senior judge, Richard P. Conaboy, 86, says, "It's frustrating. The cases keep piling up. We have much more civil rights, employment discrimination and immigration lawsuits."

Yvette Kane, chief judge of the Middle District told the newspaper, "the wheels would stop turning" without the continued work of the aging judges.

Judge Conaboy added, "It is a crisis here in our district."

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a "third of the legal case load" for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is handled by its senior judges. The Ninth Circuit's clerk told the Times, "We'd be sunk without them." reports that there are 95 vacancies on the federal bench of which 39 are considered judicial emergencies.

Senate Republicans, however, continue to obstruct the judicial nominations process. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said earlier this year, "I have often said that the 100 of us in the Senate stand in the shoes of over 300 million Americans. We owe it to them to do our constitutional duty of voting on the President's nominations to be federal judges. We owe it to them to make sure that hard-working Americans are able to have their cases heard in our federal courts."