Congress and the Political Expansion of the United States District Courts
Posted: 18 Apr 2001
Expanding the number of U.S. district judgeships is often justified as a response to expanding caseloads. Increasing judgeships during unified government, however, allows Congress and the President to engage in political (patronage and ideological) control of the federal district courts. This paper examines empirically the relative importance of caseload pressure and political motives for Congress to expand the number of federal district judgeships. We demonstrate that politics dominates the timing of judgeship expansion in the U.S. District Courts. We also show that both politics and caseload affect the actual size of those timed expansions. In particular, we find that before 1970, Congress seemed to have strong political motivations for the size of an expansion. After 1970, Congress became much more attentive to caseload considerations.
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