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Court Officers and Staff: Circuit Executives

In 1971 Congress authorized each circuit judicial council to appoint a circuit executive to "exercise such administrative powers and perform such duties as may be delegated" by the council. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1938 had recommended the appointment of administrative officers to serve the proposed judicial councils, but legislation establishing the councils in 1939 made no provision for such officers. The authorizing legislation of 1971 (84 Stat. 1907) was part of an effort to address what was perceived to be a caseload crisis in the federal courts. The statute stated that the duties of the circuit executive might include the exercise of administrative control of all nonjudicial activities of the court of appeals in the respective circuits; the administration of the budget and personnel systems of that court of appeals; and the preparation of appropriate recommendations and reports to the chief judge of the circuit, the circuit council, and the Judicial Conference, based on studies of the judicial business in all the courts of the circuit. The statute also provided that each of the duties delegated to the circuit executives "be subject to the general supervision of the chief judge of the circuit."

Under the terms of the original statute, each circuit council selected its circuit executive from a list of applicants certified by a board composed of three members selected by the Judicial Conference plus the directors of the Federal Judicial Center and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Since 1988, however, each circuit council has full authority to appoint its circuit executive, and the person so appointed serves at the council's pleasure. Despite the fact that the circuit executives' offices are typically, but not always, located in the same building as the headquarters of the courts of appeals, they work for the circuit council, not the court of appeals. Their responsibilities include providing technical assistance to support the information technology and construction projects in the courts within the circuit, making arrangements for circuit judicial conferences and meetings of the circuit judicial councils, and serving as the circuit's liaison to state courts, bar groups, the media, and the public. Each circuit executive is authorized to appoint necessary employees with the approval of the council and the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

At the suggestion of Chief Justice Warren Burger, Congress in 1981 appropriated money for the appointment of a "district court executive" (a local counterpart to the circuit executive) in five judicial districts on an experimental basis. There was no authorizing legislation for these positions, however, and the number of district court executives has since declined.

The current provisions regarding the appointment, duties, and compensation of circuit executives are 28 U.S.C. 332 (e) & (f).

Further Reading:
McDermott, John T., and Steven Flanders. The Impact of the Circuit Executive Act. Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center, 1979.

Macy, John W., Jr. The First Decade of the Circuit Court Executive: An Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center, 1985.