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Administrative Bodies: Circuit Judicial Councils

The Administrative Office Act of 1939 required the senior (later chief) judge of each circuit to call a meeting of all circuit judges, designated as the circuit council, at least twice a year. The circuit councils met to review reports from the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and discuss matters of judicial administration. District judges were directed by the statute “promptly to carry out the directions of the council as to the administration of the business of their respective courts.” The councils handled matters such as assigning judges to aid congested districts or infirm judges, directing that long-pending cases be decided, requiring judges to take staggered vacations, and setting ethical standards for the circuit. In 1948, Congress authorized each council to “make all necessary orders for the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts within its circuit.” Congress expanded the responsibilities of the councils over time. For example, federal laws in the 1960s required circuit councils to approve district court plans for the assignment of counsel to indigent defendants and for the random selection of jurors. The Judicial Councils Reform and Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 changed the composition of the circuit councils, no longer requiring the participation of all active circuit judges and providing for the inclusion of district judges. The same act gave the circuit councils a role in investigating complaints of judicial misconduct or disability and taking remedial action. Circuit judicial councils, required since 1990 to be composed of equal numbers of circuit and district judges, continue to oversee the administration of justice in their circuits.