Colorado would gain four new federal judge positions under legislation introduced by members of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary on Friday.
The District Court Judgeships Act of 2021 would expand the U.S. District Court in Denver from its current roster of seven active judges to 11. The district court is the state's federal trial court, and it has had seven members since the mid-1980s, despite a near-doubling of both the state's population and total cases filed.
Nationwide, the House bill would create 203 judgeships across 47 judicial districts.
“Given Colorado’s recent growth, and in particular the population growth in Northern Colorado, as well as the overwhelming dockets our federal district court currently faces, increasing the number of district judges in Colorado and the localities in which court can be held will ensure access to timely and efficient justice for Coloradans," said U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.
Neguse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced his own legislation in February that would add three seats to the state's district court. Neguse's office did not immediately explain why the current House bill subsequently increased the number of judges by one.
Four judges is higher than a related bill in the Senate would award to Colorado: the legislation suggests just one. The U.S. Judicial Conference, which is the policymaking body for the courts, also released a recommendation in March for two new positions in Colorado based on caseload calculations.
Following the confirmation of U.S. District Court Judge Regina M. Rodriguez in June, the trial court bench once again has seven members for the first time in two years. Prior to Rodriguez, Colorado's district court was in a "judicial emergency," meaning that weighted civil case filings per judge exceeded established benchmarks.
Congress last authorized an increase in judgeships for certain districts nearly two decades ago. This is the longest window of time in which there have been no new judicial seats created, said the office of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who is the leading proponent of the District Court Judgeships Act. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the legislation would be California, where existing judicial vacancies have prompted judges to postpone civil trials and where case filings per judge can exceed 700.
Data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts show there were 3,233 federal civil cases pending in Colorado as of March 31, 2021. That equated to 538 cases between each of the six active judges at the time. The court also has magistrate judges and semi-retired senior judges to assist in the handling of litigation.
There is one upcoming vacancy on the court, as Judge R. Brooke Jackson is stepping down to become a senior judge at the end of September. Colorado's senators sent the names of three candidates to the White House in May for consideration, but the president has not yet put forward a nominee.