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Landmark Legislation: Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts
53 Stat. 1223
August 7, 1939
In 1939, with the establishment of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the circuit judicial councils, Congress for the first time provided the judiciary with budgetary and personnel management agencies that were independent of the executive branch of government. For 150 years, administrative responsibility for the federal courts shifted from the Treasury Department to the Interior Department in 1849 and to the Justice Department in 1870. (The Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, established in 1922, was an advisory body.) By the late 1930s, a coalition of judges, lawyers, academics, and Justice Department officials agreed that the efficient administration of justice, as well as the principle of judicial independence, required a separate agency with officers appointed by and responsible to a body of judges.
By the early-twentieth century, some judges expressed concern that the Justice Department's administrative oversight of the courts was ineffective and, more important, posed the threat of interference with the judicial process. Reform proposals ranged from separate appropriation bills for the courts to the authorization of senior circuit judges as administrators for all the courts within their respective circuits. Some circuits established conferences of judges to discuss problems of case management and court administration. The Roosevelt administration's Judicial Reorganization Bill of 1937, best known for its provision to enlarge the Supreme Court, included provision for appointment of a proctor who would gather data on the business of the courts and make recommendations for reassignment of judges and improved case management. Many district court judges resisted this centralization of authority over individual courts that had operated with so much autonomy for a century and a half, but there was widespread support for some reform that would facilitate judicial business and eliminate the Justice Department's role in the daily operations of the federal courts.
After the defeat of Roosevelt's "court-packing" plan, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes responded to suggestions for less sweeping administrative changes. He appointed members of the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges to work with representatives of the American Bar Association and Justice Department officials to draft legislation that would improve the efficiency of the courts at the same time that it respected the decentralized character of the federal judicial system. The committee's proposed Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts would collect information on the caseload of the courts, prepare the annual budget request for the courts and disburse funds appropriated to the judiciary, and offer administrative assistance to the courts. The act authorized the Supreme Court to select the director of the Administrative Office, but, at the insistence of Chief Justice Hughes, the office was to operate under the supervision of the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges rather than the Court.
The committee proposal found broad support in both the Senate and House of Representatives, which considered several versions before passage in August 1939. The act established circuit judicial councils through which the courts of appeals judges would review the caseload reports of the Administrative Office and instruct district judges on what was necessary to expedite the courts' business. It also mandated annual circuit conferences at which circuit and district judges would meet with members of the bar to discuss judicial administration.
Fish, Peter Graham. The Politics of Federal Judicial Administration. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973.
53 Stat. 1223
August 7, 1939
To provide for the administration of the United States courts, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Judicial Code is hereby amended by adding at the end thereof a new chapter to be numbered XV and entitled "The Administration of the United States Courts", as follows:
"CHAPTER XV-THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE UNITED STATES COURTS
"SEC. 302. There shall be at the seat of government an establishment to be known as the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, with a Director at the head thereof who shall be appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States and hold office at the pleasure of and be subject to removal by the aforesaid Court. There shall be in said establishment an Assistant Director, to be appointed and hold office in like manner, who shall perform such duties as may be assigned to him by the Director and, during the absence or incapacity of the Director or during a vacancy in that office, shall act as Director. The Director and Assistant Director shall receive annual salaries of $10,000 and $7,500, respectively. The Director shall cause a seal of office to be made for the said establishment of such design as the Supreme Court of the United States shall approve, and judicial notice shall be taken of the said seal.
"SEC. 303. The Director, with the approval of the Supreme Court, shall have authority, subject to the civil-service laws, to appoint such employees as are deemed necessary to perform the functions and duties vested in said establishment by this chapter, and the Director shall fix their compensation according to the Classification Act of 1923, as amended. During his term of office or employment, no officer or employee of said establishment shall engage directly or indirectly in the practice of law in any of the courts of the United States.
"SEC. 304. The Director shall be the administrative officer of the United States courts and shall have charge, under the supervision and direction of the conference of senior circuit judges, of-
"(l) All administrative matters related to the offices of the clerks and other clerical and administrative personnel of the courts, but nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed as affecting the authority of the courts to appoint their administrative or clerical personnel, or the authority of the Attorney General respecting United States marshals and their deputies, United States attorneys and their assistants;
"(2) Examining the state of the dockets of the various courts and securing information as to their needs for assistance, if any, and the preparation of statistical data and reports of the business transacted by the courts, and promptly transmitting the information so obtained quarterly to the senior circuit judges of the respective circuits, to the end that proper action may be taken action taken with respect thereto, but inspections of the dockets of the courts outside of the continental United States shall be made through officials of the United States Government residing within the jurisdiction, respectively, of the said courts;
"(3) The disbursement, directly and through the several United States marshals as now provided by law, of moneys appropriated for the maintenance, support, and operation of the courts;
"(4) The purchase, exchange, transfer, and distribution of equipment and supplies;
"(5) The examination and audit of vouchers and accounts of the officials and employees covered by this chapter;
"(6) The providing of accommodations for the use of the courts and the various officials and employees covered by this chapter; and
"(7) Such other matters as may be assigned to him by the Supreme Court and the conference of the senior circuit judges. The clerks of the district courts, their deputies and assistants, and all other employees of said courts shall comply with any and all requests made by the Director or one of his assistants for information and statistical data bearing on the state of the dockets of such courts.
"SEC. 305. The Director, under the supervision of the conference of senior circuit judges, shall prepare and submit annually to the Bureau of the Budget estimates of the expenditures and appropriations necessary for the maintenance and operation of the Unties States courts and the administrative office of the United States courts, and such supplemental and deficiency estimates as may be required time to time for the same purposes, in accordance with the provisions of the Budget and Accounting Act. Such estimates in respect of the circuit courts of appeals, the district courts of the United States, and courts hereinafter referred to in the Territories and possessions, and of the administrative office shall be approved by the conference of senior circuit judges before their presentation to the Bureau of the Budget. Such estimates in respect to the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, the Court of Claims, and the United States Customs Court shall be approved by the judges of such courts, respectively, before submission to the Bureau of the Budget. All estimates so submitted shall be included in the Budget without revision (but subject to the recommendations of the Bureau of the Budget thereon), in the same manner as is provided for the estimates of the Supreme Court by section 201 of said Act. The Director shall submit annually to the conference of senior circuit judges a report of the activities of the administrative office and of the state of business of the courts, together with the statistical data compiled and submitted by him to the senior circuit judges as provided by clause 2 of section 304, with his recommendations. Such report shall be filed at least two weeks prior to the annual meeting of the conference, and a copy thereof shall also be filed with the Congress and with the Attorney General. Such report shall be a public document.
"SEC. 306. To the end that the work of the district courts shall be effectively and expeditiously transacted, it shall be the duty of the senior circuit judge of each circuit to call at such time and place as he shall designate, but at least twice in each year, a council composed of the circuit judges for such circuit, who are hereby designated a council for that purpose, at which council the senior circuit judge shall preside. The senior judge shall submit to the council the quarterly reports of the Director required to be filed by the provisions of section 304, clause (2), and such action shall be taken thereon by the council as may be necessary. It shall be the duty of the district judges promptly to carry out the directions of the council as to the administration of the business of their respective courts. Nothing contained in this section shall affect the provisions of existing law relating to the assignment of district judges to serve outside of the districts for which they, respectively, were appointed.
"SEC. 307. A conference shall be held annually in each judicial circuit, at such time and place, as shall be designated by the senior circuit judge thereof, which conference shall be composed of circuit and district judges in such circuit who reside within the continental United States, with participation in such conference on the part of members of the bar under rules to be prescribed by the circuit courts of appeals, for the purpose of considering the state of the business of the courts and advising ways and means of improving the administration of justice within the circuit. The senior circuit judge and each judge summoned and attending such conferences shall be allowed his actual expenses of travel and his necessary expenses for subsistence, not to exceed $10 per day, which payments shall be made by the United States marshal for the district in which the conference is held, upon the written certificate of the judge incurring such expenses.
"SEC. 308. The provisions of this chapter shall apply to the several United States circuit courts of appeals, the United States Court Appeals for the District of Columbia, the several district courts of the United States in the continental United States, the Court of Claims, the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, the United States Customs Court, the District Court for the District of Alaska, the District Court for the District of Hawaii, the District Court of the United States for Puerto Rico, the United States District Court for the District of the Canal Zone, the District Court of the Virgin Islands, and the United States Court for China. The term 'courts' as used in this chapter means the courts specified in this section. The term 'continental United States' as used in this chapter means the States of the Union and the District of Columbia. For the purposes of this chapter, the District of Columbia shall be deemed to be a judicial circuit. The chief justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shall have the duties, powers, and authority of the senior circuit judge for such circuit, and the associate justices of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shall have the duties, powers, and authority of circuit judges for such circuit."
SEC. 2. The following quoted provision of the Act making appropriations for the Departments of State and Justice, and for the Department of Commerce
(H. R. 6392) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1940, approved June 29, 1939, Public Act Numbered 156, Seventy-sixth Congress, first session, to wit: "That no part of this appropriation shall be used to defray the salary or expenses of any probation officer whose work fails to comply with the official orders, regulations, and probation standards promulgated by the Attorney General: Provided further, That no funds herein appropriated shall be used to defray the salary or expenses of any probation officer unless the district judge shall have so far as possible required the appointee to conform with the qualifications prescribed by the Attorney General: Provided further, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to abridge the right of the district judges to appoint probation officers, or to make such orders as may be necessary to govern probation officers in their own courts:" is hereby repealed.
SEC. 3. Those employees of the Department of Justice engaged in the audit of accounts and vouchers referred to in section 304 of the Judicial Code shall, as far as practicable, be transferred to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. In such event, the appropriations available for the current fiscal year, from which such employees are paid, shall be apportioned between the Department of Justice and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, on the basis of duties transferred to the latter office. All records, documents, and papers relating to the audit of accounts referred to in section 304 of the Judicial Code shall be transferred from the Department of Justice to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
SEC. 4. All unexpended appropriations for the support, maintenance, and operation of the courts specified in section 306 of the Judicial Code for the current fiscal year, and all unexpended appropriations covering judicial personnel as specified in section 304 (1) of the Judicial Code, including appropriations for the salaries of justices and judges who have retired or who have resigned under the provisions of section 260 of the Judicial Code (U. S. C., title 28, sec. 375), are hereby transferred to the control of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
SEC. 5. All powers and duties now conferred or imposed by law upon the Department of Justice or the Attorney General, relating to the administrative audit of the accounts and vouchers referred to in section 304 of the Judicial Code, are hereby transferred to and vested in the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
SEC. 6. All administrative powers and duties now conferred or imposed by law upon the Department of Justice or the Attorney General, respecting clerks of courts, deputy clerks of courts and clerical assistants, law clerks, secretaries, and stenographers to the judges, and librarians in charge of libraries of the courts, and such other employees of the courts not excluded by section 304 of chapter XV as hereinbefore set forth, are hereby vested in the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
SEC. 7. This Act shall take effect ninety days after its approval.
Approved, August 7, 1939.