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Letters to the 107th Congress

March 28, 2001

Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate
Washington DC 20510

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I write on behalf of the American Bar Association to express our support for S.147, bipartisan legislation recently introduced by you and Senator Hutchison to authorize nine temporary and nine permanent judgeships in the five U.S. district courts situated along the U.S./Mexico border. We agree that these additional judgeships are sorely needed to enable the courts to deal with crushing criminal dockets resulting from record numbers of immigration and drug prosecutions.

Since 1995, Congress has committed significant resources to a national effort to crack down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. As a result, drug prosecutions have doubled and immigration prosecutions have increased by more than five-fold in the district courts in these states. Congress has not provided for this ripple effect. While funding has been appropriated for the deployment of thousands of additional law enforcement personnel along the U.S./Mexico border, there has been no corresponding increase in funding for additional judicial personnel for the affected border courts. This has put the courts in an untenable position, straining every facet of their operations and requiring their judges to assume impossible caseloads. Even though we soundly applaud efforts by court personnel to deal with crushing workloads, innovative pre-trial procedures or case management techniques are not enough to solve a problem of this dimension.

Nowhere is the situation worse than in your own state. We are alarmed that, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Southern District of California has a weighted caseload of almost 1,000 cases per judgeship, even though every authorized judgeship is filled. Not only is that workload approximately two and one-half times higher than the national standard and four times higher than the national average, it is also significantly higher than that which exists in the other southwest border courts. Yet, incongruously, the Southern District of California is the only border court for which the 106th Congress did not authorize at least one additional judgeship.

It is difficult to imagine how the overburdened judges in these courts face each day of work, no matter how committed they may be to public service and the ideal that service on the bench is for life. It must be even worse for those judges who believe that they cannot properly dispense justice under these circumstances.

While we are genuinely alarmed at the oppressive number of cases each judge is expected to handle and worry that such work conditions may lead to judicial resignations, we are even more concerned for the individuals and business entities who seek redress in these courts. Our judicial system is predicated upon the principles that each case deserves to be evaluated on its merits, that justice will be dispensed even-handedly and that justice delayed is justice denied. When judges are laboring under outrageous workloads, how can we expect each case to receive the time and attention it needs or our judges to resolve disputes in a timely fashion? How long can this situation go on before the public loses confidence in the quality of justice dispensed?

Even though seven of the 19 new judgeships created last Congress benefit the southwest border courts, these courts still need more judges. Additional judgeships need to be authorized and all vacancies need to be filled in order to reduce judicial caseloads to manageable numbers. Your bill provides the necessary first step. The American Bar Association stands ready to assist you as you seek its passage.


Martha W. Barnett
President, American Bar Association

107th Congress Letters Home

Governmental Affairs Office
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