Judicial Vacancies and Delay in the Federal Courts: An Empirical Evaluation, in Symposium, the Civil Justice Reform Act
43 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2010
Date Written: 1993
This Article examines the relationship between federal district court judicial vacancies -- whether caused by the executive branch's failure to timely nominate judges, Congress's failure to confirm presidential nominees, or some other reason -- and delays in processing the civil caseload. The hypotheses tested are several configurations of the hypothesis "judicial vacancies cause delay." The statistical method of analysis of covariance is used to test this hypothesis and thereby evaluate the degree to which delays, defined by reference to certain case management statistics, are correlated to vacancy rates in individual federal district courts, and within the federal system as a whole. My conclusions may be surprising to some. The data analyzed ultimately suggest that, whether vacancy rates are expressed in terms of absolute vacancies or as a percentage of judicial capacity and adjusting for differences among courts as to caseloads and other objective factors that might also cause delay, there is no relationship between judicial vacancies and the traditional indicators that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts ("AO") has used to measure civil litigation delay in the district courts. Part I explains the data used in the analyses, discusses the methodology, and sets forth and explains the results. Part II offers some explanations for the lack of relationship that the data clearly showed, and some conjecture about the more probable causes of unacceptable delay that concededly exists in many federal courts today.
Keywords: Caseloads, federal courts, litigation
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