You are here

Federal Judicial Center Celebrates 50 Years: IJR: The History

IJR: The History

This webpage was developed to join the Federal Judicial Center’s reflections on 50 years of serving the United States judiciary.

The U.S. court system is admired and respected around the world. The Center assists foreign judges and court officials seeking to learn about the role of the judiciary in upholding the rule of law and ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice.

In 1992, the Center’s implementing legislation was amended to include a mandate

[to] cooperate with and assist agencies of the Federal Government and other appropriate organizations in providing information and advice to further improvement in the administration of justice in the courts of foreign countries and to acquire information about judicial administration in foreign countries that may contribute to performing the other functions set forth in this section. [1]

The Center’s work with foreign judiciaries, however, began in its early years.

Soon after the Center was established, its reputation for innovation in the field of judicial branch research and education spread domestically and abroad. When judges and justice-branch officials visited Washington, D.C., in the 1970s and ’80s, they often requested a meeting at the Center.

Visitors arrived with specific areas of interest. For example, in 1970 five judges from Italy met with Center staff to learn about the use of court technology.  A scholar from Munich University Law School requested a meeting in 1971 to discuss “computers and the law.” In 1974, the Center hosted representatives from Japan’s Judicial Administrative Management Office for a program about court administration. In 1989, the Center hosted court officials from Australia (preserving historic courthouses), South Africa (judicial governance), and the German Democratic Republic (education). A delegation from the Russian Federated Republic of the Soviet Union, led by the minister of justice, visited the Center in 1991 for an overview of the U.S. legal system.

The 1990s brought a period of significant transition on the world stage, with emerging democracies in Africa, South America, Central and Eastern Europe, and the post-Soviet states. The number of visitors to the Center increased, as did the scope of their requests. Programs for foreign visitors included discussions of judicial independence, constitution drafting, the role of a free press, and strategies for developing an accountable and professional judiciary. Some of these meetings were carried out in collaboration with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

With a modest staff and its primary mission focused on education and research for the U.S. courts, the Center was constrained in its ability to keep up with these requests. In 1991, Director William Schwarzer asked the Center’s board to consider a statutory amendment to the Center’s implementing legislation that would provide a clear mandate to assist foreign judiciaries. The board approved this proposal.

On October 7, 1992, Alabama Senator Hugh Heflin introduced a number of recommendations from the Federal Courts Study Committee, including legislation to allow

the Federal Judicial Center to work with other organizations to assist in the development of judicial systems in foreign countries. With new democracies forming all over the world, it is essential that our judicial branch officers and employees be authorized to share their expertise in judicial administration and the basic tenets of freedom that this country holds dear. I anticipate that there will be many beneficial developments from the efforts of the Federal Judicial Center, the Judicial Conference, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in this regard.[2]

The Center’s legislation was amended,[3] and the Office of Interjudicial Affairs was created.[4]

Although the most international programs were limited to informational briefings, the Center began to receive requests to host judges for longer programs and research visits. In 1992, the Center convened a three-week State Department-funded seminar for judges from the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.  In 1995, at the request of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Inter-American Development Bank, the Center held a program for 92 judges and legal officials: “Judicial Reform in the Western Hemisphere.”

The Visiting Foreign Judicial Fellows Program was created in 1992 to host judges and legal professionals for extended periods, enabling them to explore in more depth issues relevant to reforms underway in their home countries.

The Center became a resource for U.S. government agencies and other institutions working in the field of international rule of law. The Interjudicial Affairs Office identified judges and court personnel with relevant expertise for assessment projects, workshops, and international conferences. Center staff were asked to participate in these efforts, traveling abroad to assist with creating new judicial training centers or implementing judicial reform initiatives.

During this period, the U.S. judiciary increasingly engaged with foreign counterparts. Much of this work was facilitated by the United States Judicial Conference Committee on International Judicial Relations.[5] When federal judges sought to expand their knowledge of foreign judicial systems and international law, they reached out to the Center for assistance and materials.

In 2001, the International Judicial Relations (IJR) Office replaced Interjudicial Affairs.[6] Except for the salaries of IJR staff (the director and an assistant) and de minimis administrative costs, the Center spends no appropriated funds on international programs. Funding and logistics for foreign visitors and staff participation in programs abroad are supported by executive branch agencies (including the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce) or international organizations and foreign governments.

Through the work of the IJR Office, the Center helps other nations build accountable judicial branch institutions, fostering the rule of law and facilitating economic development by improving court operations and the professional skills of judges and court administrators. The Center serves as a resource for the federal courts and shares with the world the professional excellence and institutional innovations of the U.S. judiciary.

. . . when you talk not only to visitors from foreign countries, but to members of State judiciary that are visiting us, they look at the Federal Judicial Center as really one of the crown jewels of the Federal system and that it is very efficient.” 

―Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations (Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1996), House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, First Session, March 8, 1995.


[1] October 1992: legislation amended to add (6) : 106 Stat. 4514 Public Law 102-572 Title VI Sec. 602(1)(3)

[2] Congressional Record – Senate S 17253: October 7, 1992. 

[3] 106 Stat. 4514 Public Law 102-572 Title VI Sec. 602(1)(3)

[4] The Interjudicial Affairs Office was responsible for both international programs and initiatives involving the U.S. state courts.

[6] Responsibility for State-Federal programs was transferred to the Research Division.