Executive Director's Report

Bench Boosters

The Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements Tackles Substantive Issues

Posted Jul 13, 2004 4:48 PM CDT
By Robert A. Stein

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A major goal of the American Bar Association is ensuring that the nation’s court systems are among the best in the world. With­­in the ABA Justice Center and throughout the various associ­ation entities, numerous programs are directed toward strength­en­ing the judicial system. Focusing specifically on the substantive is­sues affecting the federal judiciary is the Standing Com­mittee on Federal Judicial Improvements.

Chaired this year by David Craig Landin of Richmond, Va., the committee serves a vital role in developing association policy and closely monitoring congressional activity impacting the judicial branch. Since its creation in 1971, the committee has supported the ABA’s participation in national debates on the important issues facing the federal courts.

The committee has developed policy statements and presented reports on such issues as: judicial independence and the separation of powers doctrine, the Judi­cial Conference of the United States’ Long Range Plan for the Federal Courts, restructuring the federal courts, cameras in the courts, gender bias in the courts, preservation of federal court jurisdiction against efforts to remove it in selective subject matter areas, reappointment procedures for bankruptcy judges, and interbranch disputes over funding for courthouse construction and renovation. The committee Web site, www.abanet. org/scfji, includes a list of all ABA policy relating to the fed­eral judiciary that the committee has sponsored since 1985.

Among the issues the committee is now grappling with are promoting effectiveness in the federal judicial selection process from the time a vacancy is announced until confirmation; congressional-judicial relations with an em­phasis on enhancement of constructive communications between the two branches; interbranch respect for the separation of powers doctrine and the problems that arise when it is absent; mechanisms to improve the administration of the federal court system, including an examination of whether Article III justice is diluted by methods used to handle burgeoning caseloads; inadequacy of current judicial compensation; and delivery of continuing ju­dicial education. The committee’s membership—judges, practicing lawyers and legal scholars—allows examination of issues from multiple viewpoints and development of balanced policy recommendations.

PROBLEMS WITH PAY

A major systemic issue that the association and the committee have long wrestled with is judicial compensation. Over the years, the ABA has been in the forefront of efforts to ensure adequate and equitable judicial pay. More recently, convinced that salary levels are so inadequate that they threaten to impair the quality and independence of the judiciary, the committee has collab­o­­rated with the Federal Bar Association to develop a joint report on federal judicial pay attrition.

In 2003, the Brookings Institution issued a report of the National Commission on Public Service (known as the Volcker Report in recognition of the commission chair), urging Congress to enact an immediate, significant increase in federal judicial salaries and break the statutory link between congressional and judicial sala­ries. At the ABA Midyear Meeting in February 2003, the House of Delegates adopted a resolution sponsored by the committee that supports these recommen­dations. The full report is on the com­- mittee Web site.

In addition to coordinating policy posi­tions and re­spond­ing to legislative proposals and other activities of the political branches, the committee has cultivated ties with entities within and outside the ABA that focus on issues affecting the federal courts. The committee regularly reaches out to and exchanges information with external entities, including Citi­zens for Independent Courts, the Federal Ju­di­cial Center, the Judicial Conference, and the Administrative Office’s public affairs and legislative affairs divisions.

Another facet of the committee’s public relations work involves the Meador-Rosenberg Award, created in 1995 to rec­ognize individu­als who’ve made outstanding contributions to improving the administration of justice. The award has been presented only five times: to Judge William Schwarzer in 1995; to retired U.S. Rep. Robert Kastenmeier in 1998; to Judge Richard Arnold in 1999; to Edward W. Madeira Jr. in 2002; and, most recently, in 2003, to Judge Norma Shapiro in recognition of her contributions to the independence of the judiciary.

For more information on the work of the Standing Com­mittee on Federal Judicial Improvements, contact its excellent staff director, Eileen Gallagher, at 312-988-5105 or via email at gallaghe@staff.abanet.org.

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