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Since 2003, the number of senior federal judges, both appellate and district, has been growing. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that, as of December 2007, there were 473 senior judges complementing the federal judiciary’s ranks of active judges. The phenomenon is raising eyebrows in Congress. Included in the judiciary’s $6.7 billion budget request for fiscal year 2009 is a line about “an anticipated increase in the number of on-board senior Article III judges.” In an appropriations subcommittee hearing last week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) broached the topic — delicately — during a round of questions for Judge Julia Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, chairwoman of the Judicial Conference’s budget committee, and James Duff, director of the AO. “It sounds like, in most instances, that senior judges may require additional resources,” Durbin said. “That’s too simplistic,” Gibbons said defensively, adding that senior judges provide more resources than they burn because many work nearly as much as their active peers. Judges can retire or take senior status when their years on the bench and their age add up to 80 (it’s called the Rule of 80). Senior judges are required to work at least 25 percent as much as active judges, and according to the AO, they bear at least 18 percent of the workload in the courts of appeals and about 17 percent in the district courts. They have full-time staff and they need space. But as Duff put it, the courts “could not function” without them. With that, Durbin moved on to the next question.
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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