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Message from the Director

President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation creating the Center on December 20, 1967. The law stated that the Center’s purpose “shall be to further the development and adoption of improved judicial administration in the courts of the United States.”

To achieve this goal, the Judicial Conference of the United States and Congress deemed it important to make the Center a separate entity within the judicial branch. Several reasons were given for this unusual degree of independence: to keep the Center’s resources focused on its specific missions and not diverted to regular operational functions in the Administrative Office; to enable the Center to develop special expertise in research, education, automation, and related fields; and to give the Center the latitude and detachment to examine and, when appropriate, question existing practices and policies. The Center was given no authority to make or enforce policy for the judiciary; from the beginning, its influence has depended on the significance, quality, and integrity of its work in support of the federal courts.

The Judicial Conference elected the first Board members on February 27, 1968, and the first Board meeting, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren, was held on March 2, 1968. At that meeting, the Board appointed retired Justice Tom C. Clark as the Center’s first director. In the ensuing months, the Center went from concept to reality, as Justice Clark hired staff, established advisory committees, located a building to house the Center, and oversaw the first educational programs the Center offered.

From these beginnings, the Center grew to become what it is today, playing a critical role in helping the federal courts adapt to growing caseloads and new laws, as well as changes in science and technology, the economy, politics, social attitudes and trends, and more. The Center has changed in many ways, too. But throughout its existence it has benefitted from strong leadership by its Board, the assistance and support of the entire judiciary, and a consistently talented and dedicated staff. Coupled with its independence and an unwavering commitment to excellence and integrity in all it does, these qualities have made the Center a trusted and valued part of the finest judicial system in the world.

For more about the Center’s first fifty years, I encourage readers to go to the Center’s website, www.fjc.gov, where we have posted a collection of articles and materials about our history.

Of course, in 2017 the world continued to turn and the Center had plenty to do, as the summaries in this report reflect. I note four highlights in particular. First, we launched a newly revised public website, with more information about the Center in a more attractive and user-friendly format. The new site provides expanded information and includes features that will be of particular value for those interested in caseload data and federal judicial history. Second, we made great progress in establishing comprehensive curricula for judges and other constituencies in the courts. This will help us ensure that we meet the most pressing educational needs of the judiciary notwithstanding our limited resources. Third, our Research Division produced several new manuals and guides, on topics from Chapter 9 bankruptcy to best practices in carrying out seizures under new federal trade secret legislation. Such publications provide judges and others clear, concise information and suggestions, often in relatively unexplored areas of law.

Finally, among many valuable and interesting programs in 2017, in September we held a Symposium on Civil Discourse attended by judges and people who work in academia, public education, media, and government. Attendees came from across the political spectrum. Although one event hardly was a cure for social divisions, it was encouraging that such a disparate group enthusiastically participated and discussed ways to engage in healthy debate about difficult issues with respect and civility.

I will close with a personal note. My seven-year term as director will end in September.

As I have in past years, I want to express my most sincere thanks to the Center’s Board for its support and confidence. I also am deeply grateful to the judges and staff of the federal judiciary; it has been a privilege to serve them and to serve with them. And most of all, I want to acknowledge the magnificent people who work at the Center and who have made being their director the best job I’ve ever had.