Idaho needs third federal judge

By U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

In 1953, then-U.S. Senator Herman Welker (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a convincing case for the addition of a second federal judgeship for Idaho at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

The Senator cited the increase in cases, rising case backload and considerable distance between places of holding court for the only federal judge in Idaho at the time. He asked, “How long can this able jurist physically and mentally stand this tremendous workload?”

In 1954, Congress went on to pass and the President signed into law legislation adding that second federal judgeship for Idaho and additional judgeships for other states across our nation.

The reasons our state needs a third federal judgeship today mirror those Senator Welker shared with his Senate colleagues 67 years ago, only those justifications have intensified in the decades of Idaho’s growth and development since.

The report for the previously-mentioned 1953 hearing includes statistics sought by Senator Welker from the then-Chief Judge for the Third Circuit regarding the caseload of Idaho’s then only federal judge. The report indicates Idaho’s federal judge had 147 pending civil cases in March of 1953. Senator Welker also noted 25 pending criminal cases in the first half of 1953 in his testimony.

How does that caseload compare to the caseload today for our state’s two federal judges?

According to the most current available data from the Judicial Conference of the United States, Idaho’s caseload included 527 filings per judge in the year leading up to September 2020. When the filings are weighted for the time it takes to deal with them, Idaho judges deal with 485 weighted filings per judge per year, creating a chokepoint on our justice system.

Since 2003, the Judicial Conference of the United States has consistently found Idaho to be facing a judicial emergency based on weighted caseload numbers per active federal judge.

Further, when Idaho was allocated the second of its two federal judge positions in 1954, our state had a population of 600,000. Now, according to current U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, our state’s population exceeds 1.8 million. Yet, we still only have two judgeships. Idaho is one of only three states with only two authorized federal judgeships. And one of Idaho’s two U.S. District Judges, Justice Lynn Winmill, announced recently he will be taking senior status effective August 16, 2021, which will require timely action to fill his position.

Similarly populated states, such as Nebraska with 1.9 million people or West Virginia with approximately 1.8 million people, have three and eight authorized judgeships respectively. Two neighboring states with smaller populations than Idaho, Wyoming (582,328) and Montana (1.08 million), both have three authorized judgeships. California has 60 plus one temporary judgeships, while New York has 52 judgeships.

To ensure effective and efficient administration of justice, our state’s judgeship allotment must keep pace with our growing state.

On January 22, 2021, fellow Senator Jim Risch and I reintroduced legislation to establish a third federal district judgeship in Idaho. Representatives Mike Simpson  and Russ Fulcher also introduced a counterpart to this legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Idaho needs a third judge to meet the demands of our growing state. I continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle for enactment of legislation that enables a third judgeship position for Idaho to help ensure effective access to the courts for Idaho’s increasing population.

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