In 2019, the Judiciary undertook several initiatives aimed at ensuring that the federal court system operates in an efficient, effective, and responsive way to maintain the trust and confidence of the public – a pillar of judicial independence. These initiatives, along with a detailed accounting of the work of the federal courts during 2019, are described in the Annual Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), published on Tuesday.
Among the initiatives, reported AO Director James C. Duff, were efforts to increase the branch’s accountability. New workplace protections were put in place, including procedures for resolving employment disputes, and a new Office of Judicial Integrity began operations as a vital resource for judicial employees. Courts were subject to rigorous and comprehensive financial audits, and they continued to invest heavily in cybersecurity to protect their information systems, an ongoing priority for the Judiciary. All of this was accomplished, Duff noted in his opening message, as the Judiciary was in the throes of the longest government shutdown in American history.
“We went to work. We met payroll. No one was furloughed. The courts remained open. How we managed to do so says more about who we are and what the Judicial Branch does than any annual message can convey,” Duff wrote. “Employees and judges in every circuit searched for existing funds that could be properly deobligated and shifted to keep operations functioning until appropriated funds were released and the properly delayed obligations could be met. The nationwide effort, coordinated by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, demonstrates our branch’s dedication to doing its work and to serving the public.”
The report provides an accounting of the Judiciary’s main activities throughout the year, as required by law. The accompanying Judicial Business of the United States provides statistical tables about federal caseloads by circuit, district, and offense, among other topics, and is also statutorily required.
The 2019 Judicial Business section of the report shows that total case filings in federal district courts increased 6 percent to 390,555, civil case filings rose 5 percent to 297,877, and criminal filings grew 6 percent to 92,678. Petitions filed in the U.S. bankruptcy courts went up less than 1 percent to 776,674. However, filings in the U.S. courts of appeals dropped 2 percent to 48,486.