Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Judicial Efficiency

Backlogs of cases are increasingly common in courts. According to the U.S. Supreme Court's website, its caseload alone "has increased steadily to a current total of more than 10,000 cases on the docket per Term. The increase has been rapid in recent years. In 1960, only 2,313 cases were on the docket, and in 1945, only 1,460. Plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is granted in about 100 cases per Term. Formal written opinions are delivered in 80 to 90 cases. Approximately 50 to 60 additional cases are disposed of without granting plenary review. The publication of a Term's written opinions, including concurring opinions, dissenting opinions, and orders, approaches 5,000 pages. Some opinions are revised a dozen or more times before they are announced." (Other federal caseload data can be found here.)

Does this mean we're a more litigious society? Perhaps, if the case increase were civil in nature. But the increase is occurring in criminal courts as well. This increase (and the right to a speedy trial associated with criminal cases) results in civil trials being put on hold.

Does this mean more judges are hired, elected, or appointed to accommodate the backlog? Not necessarily. What's a judge to do? (And what's a smart law student interested in being a law clerk to consider when interviewing with busy judges?)

Read up on the approaches taken by various judges to work within the system to move cases to completion.