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FTC Calls on Congress to Consider Appropriations Route for Bill on Judges, "Fixes"

Cost-savings announcement by the judiciary should assuage concerns over budget estimate

Fix the Court is calling on the appropriators in Congress to consider before the end of the year a bill that would improve openness and accountability in the third branch and add the 52 district judgeships long sought by the Judicial Conference.

Since the Judiciary ROOM Act, which includes the judgeships and several FTC “fixes,” passed the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 13, the major sticking point for advancing it to the floor has been financial, as, according to the CBO, each new position costs roughly $1,050,000 annually due to salary, support staff and office space, and Republicans and Democrats remain at odds on how to pay for the bill.

Just yesterday, though, a possible or partial solution emerged, as the judiciary announced it’s been saving upwards of $36 million a year since 2013 on rent paid to the GSA, “and that amount will increase when additional space comes off the rent bill before Dec. 31,” according to their press release.

“For the more fiscally conservative members of Congress, it’s good news that around two-thirds of the cost for the new judges could be covered by the judiciary’s own savings,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth noted. “What’s more, the budget estimate fails to mention the dozens of jobs the ROOM Act would create, the amount of money and time Americans would save on legal fees, since additional judges means quicker resolution of cases, and the fact that the last time district judges were added, it was done via the appropriations process.”

Some House Republicans initially wanted to pay for the bill with a diversity jurisdiction charge (H.R. 3487) that would allow corporations to transfer class action lawsuits from state to federal court if they paid a $700 fee. Democrats opposed the measure, as they maintain that moving these cases would harm plaintiffs. H.R. 3487 never received a committee vote.

In addition to the new judgeships, the ROOM Act would require the third branch to implement a number of FTC “fixes,” including same-day audio for Supreme Court arguments within one year of passage and live audio at the high court and live video for all circuit court arguments within two years, plus a new code of conduct for SCOTUS. The justices would also be required to post online the reasoning behind each of their recusals as they occur. Several improvements to PACER, like making court documents searchable and machine-readable, are also in the bill.

“Leaders in both parties support the pro-transparency measures in the ROOM Act, as they clearly stated during hearings last year and the year before,” Roth added. “Plus, the popularity of the broadcast, recusal and code of conduct portions of the bill with the general public is off the charts.”

With the Financial Services and General Government (i.e., third branch) portion of the appropriations minibus still in the works, FTC believes that the road to success here may lie in the appropriations, and there is plenty of time to add language to a spending bill or CR before it’s finalized.

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