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Landmark Legislation: Conference of Senior Circuit Judges
42 Stat. 837
September 14, 1922
Responding to a backlog of cases in the federal courts, Congress in 1922 enacted a new form of court administration that advanced the institutionalization of an independent judiciary. The establishment of an annual Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, later to be known as the Judicial Conference of the United States, culminated more than a decade of public debate on the reform of judicial administration. The Conference of Senior Circuit Judges provided the first formal mechanism by which members of the federal judiciary might develop national administrative policies, reassign judges temporarily, and recommend legislation.
Chief Justice William Howard Taft, appointed to the Supreme Court in 1921, had led a public campaign for federal judicial reform since leaving the White House in 1913. Taft proposed the appointment of at-large judges, what he called a "flying squadron," that could be assigned temporarily to congested courts. In Taft's plan, a conference of judges would serve primarily to assess the caseload of the lower courts and assign the at-large judges to courts in need. Taft, supported by a group of federal judges and legal scholars, hoped that the establishment of a more efficient federal judiciary would deflect the efforts of Senator George Norris and others who advocated an end to life tenure on the federal bench and the restriction of the lower federal courts' jurisdiction.
By the time Taft became Chief Justice, the increased caseload resulting from the First World War and the enforcement of Prohibition had contributed to broad support for reform of the federal judiciary. Assuming a role as leader of the judiciary as well as the Supreme Court, Taft joined with Attorney General Harry Daugherty and appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge legislation. A large majority in Congress agreed with the need for reform, but both the Senate and the House of Representatives insisted on revising Taft's proposals so that they conformed more closely to the traditions of the federal judiciary.
Congress established an annual conference of the Chief Justice and the senior circuit judge (now called the chief judge) from each judicial circuit and charged the conference with a general mandate to advise on the administrative needs of the federal courts. The act required the senior judge in each district to prepare an annual report of the business of the district's court. The conference would use these reports to prepare suggestions for the temporary transfer of judges, pending the approval of all courts involved. This expansion of the authority to transfer judges fell far short of Taft's concept of a permanent corps of at-large judges. Congress established 24 temporary judgeships, but adhered to the principle of fixed residency for district judges. Congress also declined to make the attorney general a member of the conference, although the act permitted the Chief Justice to request the attorney general to report on the business of the courts. Even without a formal relationship with Congress or the Department of Justice (which then administered the federal courts), the conference offered the judiciary a means of communicating its administrative needs.
Fish, Peter Graham. The Politics of Federal Judicial Administration. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973.
42 Stat. 837
September 14, 1922
CHAP. 306. - An Act For the appointment of an additional circuit judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, for the appointment of additional district judges for certain districts, providing for an annual conference of certain judges, and for other purposes.
Be it further enacted by the Senate and House of Representative of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the following number of district judges for the United States district courts in the district specified in addition to those now authorized by law:
For the district of Massachusetts, two; for the eastern district of New York, one; for the southern district of New York, two; for the district of New Jersey, one; for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, one; for the western district of Pennsylvania, one; for the northern district of Texas, one; for the southern district of Florida, one; for the eastern district of Michigan, one; for the northern district of Ohio, one; for the middle district of Tennessee, one; for the northern district of Illinois, one; for the eastern district of Illinois, one; for the district of Minnesota, one; for the eastern district of Missouri, one; for the western district of Missouri, one; for the eastern district of Oklahoma, one; for the district of Montana, one; for the northern district of California, one; for the southern district of California, one; for the district of New Mexico, one; and for the district of Arizona, one.
A vacancy occurring, more than two years after the passage of this Act, in the office of any district judge appointed pursuant to this Act, except for the middle district of Tennessee, shall not be filled unless Congress shall so provide, and if an appointment is made to fill such a vacancy occurring within two years a vacancy thereafter occurring in said office shall not be filled unless Congress shall so provide; Provided, however, That in case a vacancy occurs in the district of New Mexico at any time after the passage of this Act, there shall thereafter be but one judge for said district until otherwise provided by law
Every judge shall reside in the district or circuit or one of the districts or circuits for which he is appointed.
SEC. 2. It shall be the duty of the Chief Justice of the United States, or in case of his disability, of one of the other justices of the Supreme Court, in order of their seniority, as soon as may be after the passage of this Act, and annually thereafter, to summon to a conference on the last Monday in September, at Washington, District of Columbia, or at such other time and place in the United States as the Chief Justice, or, in case of his disability, any of said justices in order of their seniority, may designate, the senior circuit judge of each judicial circuit. If any senior circuit judge is unable to attend, the Chief Justice, or in case of his disability, the justice of the Supreme Court calling said conference, may summon any other circuit or district judge in the judicial circuit whose senior circuit judge is unable to attend, that each circuit may be adequately represented at said conference. It shall be the duty of every judge thus summoned to attend said conference, and to remain throughout its proceedings, unless excused by the Chief Justice, and to advise as to the needs of his circuit and as to any matters in respect of which the administration of justice in the courts of the United States may be improved.
The senior district judge of each United States district court, on or before the first day of August in each year, shall prepare and submit to the senior circuit judge of the judicial district in which said district is situated, a report setting forth the condition of business in said district court, including the number and character of cases on the docket, the business in arrears, and cases disposed of, and such other facts pertinent to the business dispatched and pending as said district judge may deem proper, together with recommendations as to the need of additional judicial assistance for the disposal of business for the year ensuing. Said reports shall be laid before the conference herein provided, by said senior circuit judge, or, in his absence, by the judge representing the circuit at the conference, together with such recommendations as he may deem proper.
The Chief Justice, or, in his absence, the senior associate justice, shall be the presiding officer of the conference. Said conference shall make a comprehensive survey of the condition of business in the courts of the United States and prepare plans for assignment and transfer of judges to or from circuits or districts where the state of the docket or condition of business indicates the need therefor, and shall submit such suggestions to the various courts as may seem in the interest of uniformity and expedition of business.
The Attorney General shall, upon request of the Chief Justice, report to said conference on matters relating to the business of the several courts of the United States, with particular reference to causes or proceedings in which the United States may be a party.
The Chief Justice and each justice or judge summoned and attending said conference 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 marshal of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the written certificate of the judge incurring such expenses, approved by the Chief Justice.
SEC. 3. Section 13 of the Judicial Code is hereby amended to read as follows:
"SEC. 13. Whenever any district judge by reason of any disability or necessary absence from his district or the accumulation or urgency of business is unable to perform speedily the work of his district, the senior circuit judge of that circuit, or, in his absence, the circuit justice thereof, may, if in his judgment the public interest requires, designate and assign any district judge of any district court within the same judicial circuit to act as district judge in such district and to discharge all the judicial duties of a judge thereof for such time as the business of the said district court may require. Whenever it is found impracticable to designate and assign another district judge within the same judicial circuit as above provided and a certificate of the needs of any such district is presented by said senior circuit judge or said circuit justice to the Chief Justice the United States, he, or in his absence the senior associate justice, may, if in his judgment the public interest so requires, designate and assign a district judge of an adjoining judicial circuit if practicable, or if not practicable, then of any judicial circuit, to perform the duties of district judge and hold a district court in any such district as above provided: Provided, however, That before any such designation or assignment is made the senior circuit judge of the circuit from which the designated or assigned judge is to be taken shall consent thereto. All designations and assignments made hereunder shall be filed in the office of the clerk and entered on the minutes of both the court from and to which a judge is designated and assigned."
SEC. 4. Section 15 of the Judicial Code is hereby amended to read as follows:
"SEC. 15. Each district judge designated and assigned under the provision 5 of Section 13 may hold separately and at the same time a district court in the district or territory to which such judge is designated and assigned and discharge all the judicial duties of the district or territorial judge therein."
SEC. 5. Section 18 of the Judicial Code is hereby amended to read as follows:
"SEC. 18. The Chief Justice of the United States, or the circuit justice of any judicial circuit, or the senior circuit judge thereof, may, if the public interest requires, designate and assign any circuit judge of a judicial circuit to hold a district court within such circuit. The judges of the United States Court of Customs Appeals, or any of them, whenever the business of that court will permit, may, if in the judgment of the Chief Justice of the United States the public interest requires, be designated and assigned by him for service from time to time, and until he shall otherwise direct, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia or the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, when requested by the Chief Justice or either of said courts.
"During the period of service of any judge designated and assigned under this Act he shall have all the powers, and rights, and perform all the duties, of the district, or a justice of the court, to which he has been assigned (excepting the power of appointment to a statutory position or of permanent designation of newspaper or depository of funds): Provided, however, That in case a trial has been has entered upon before such period of service has expired and has not been concluded, the period of service shall be deemed to be extended until the trial has been concluded.
"Any designated and assigned judge who has held court in another district than his own shall answer, notwithstanding his absence from such district and the expiration of the time limit in his designation, to decide all matters, which have been submitted to him within such district, to decide motions for new trials, settle bills of exceptions, certify or authenticate narratives of testimony, or perform any other act required by law or the rules to be performed in order to prepare any case so tried by him for review in an appellate court; and his action thereon in writing filed with the clerk of the court where the trial or hearing was had shall be as valid as if such action had been taken by him within that district and within the period of his designation."
SEC. 6. Section 118 of the Judicial Code, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:
"SEC. 118. There shall be in the second, seventh, and eighth circuits, respectively, four circuit judges; and in each of the other circuits, three circuit judges, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. All circuit judges shall receive a salary of $8,500.00 a year each, payable monthly. Each circuit judge shall reside within his circuit, and when appointed shall be a resident of the circuit for which he is appointed. The circuit judges in each circuit shall be judges of the circuit court of appeals in that circuit, and it shall be the duty of each circuit judge in each circuit to sit as one of the judges of the circuit court of appeals in that circuit from time to time according to the law: Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any circuit judge holding district court or otherwise, as provided by other sections of the Judicial Code."
SEC. 7. All laws or parts thereof inconsistent or in conflict with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed.
Approved, September 14, 1922.