Short-handed New Jersey federal courts have 6 vacancies and a huge case backlog

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New Jersey federal courts are “in the throes of a crisis” as judicial vacancies have gone unfilled, trials have been delayed and cases are piling up, according to the New York Times.

As of Sept. 30, more than 46,000 cases were pending in New Jersey federal courts, translating to 2,742 cases per judge—if there were no vacancies, the New York Times reports. But there are six New Jersey judgeships that are open. The average caseload nationwide is 970 cases per judge.

“Consistently ranked among the busiest courts in the country, New Jersey’s federal bench is also extraordinarily understaffed,” the New York Times reports. “One-third of its judicial seats are vacant and have been for years, leaving each seated judge with a pending caseload that is well over three times the national average.”

The district also had to deal with the aftermath of tragedy when a gunman came to the home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas of the District of New Jersey last July. Her son was killed, and her husband was injured. She returned to the bench in early March.

Former President Donald Trump sought to transform the courts with his focus on appointing conservative judges during his tenure. But Trump did not nominate any judges to the federal bench in New Jersey, despite openings.

The only federal court with a greater percentage of vacancies is the Western District of Washington.

The reason why Trump ignored New Jersey is unclear, although politics might be to blame, according to the New York Times. Senators often recommend possible nominees, and both U.S. senators in the state are Democrats, “making compromise difficult.”

The New York Times notes that the federal judiciary is seeking 79 new judgeships, including five new positions in New Jersey. That would bring the total number of judges in the New Jersey district to 22.

While the New Jersey courts wait for more federal judges, they are getting help from Pennsylvania and from their own senior judges, including 90-year-old Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez. He told the New York Times that he won’t even think about retirement until there is a full complement of judges.

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