Rep. Greg Stanton today continued his push to assign additional federal district judges to Arizona to keep up with the state’s rapid population growth and expand access to the judicial system to communities around the state at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.
Since 2000, Arizona’s population has grown by 50 percent—increasing the criminal and civil caseload in federal courts—yet in that time, the state has seen the addition of only one federal judge.
Stanton cited issues weighing on Arizona’s federal courts, including growing caseloads, backlogs, and a lack of access to justice for rural and tribal communities.
“Arizona desperately needs more federal district judges,” Stanton said. “The district court has been working with too little for too long and at the expense of Arizonans who should have fair, unobstructed access to our country’s judicial system. Additional judgeships is a good place to start.”
Arizona Federal Judge Diane Humetewa testified before the subcommittee on the need to add more permanent judgeships in the state and emphasized how acute this need is in Tribal communities, particularly in Northern Arizona, home to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe
“The judiciary in the District of Arizona desperately needs new permanent judgeships. The district’s caseload shows little sign of subsiding, and it continues to strain our existing resources,” Judge Humetewa said. “The status quo simply cannot meet the Constitutional mandate to administer meaningful justice for all of its citizens.”
Humetewa’s participation in the hearing happened at Stanton’s urging—he worked closely with the Chief Judge for the District of Arizona, Judge Murray Snow, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to secure her invitation to testify.
Background on the Need for New Judgeships
- The last time a new judgeship in Arizona was authorized was 19 years ago.
- For the 12?month period ending September 30, 2020, Arizona ranked fifth in the nation for criminal felony filings and 16th for civil case filings.
- The judiciary’s Federal Court Management Statistics for the 12?month period ending September 30, 2019, showed Arizona had a weighted caseload of 800 filings per district judge, which is the 5th highest in the country. Arizona’s weighted filings were 86% higher than the general standard of 430 cases per judgeship and 50% higher than the national average of 535.
- Criminal filings in Northern Arizona increased 13% between 2016 and 2019, and civil case filings increased 21% during the same period. The weighted caseload for Northern Arizona has been well above the national average of 535 for years. For example, in 2019, the weighted caseload for that area was 774.6.
- A full?time federal magistrate judge in Flagstaff handles misdemeanor cases and preliminary stages of felony cases—including a preliminary hearing and detention hearing—that arise in the Grand Canyon National Park, Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell, Lake Mohave, and other federal jurisdictions in Northern Arizona, including Indian Country. If a felony case proceeds beyond the preliminary stages (i.e., the case is not pled down to a misdemeanor), then the case must be transferred to Phoenix for adjudication by a district court judge.
- Because Arizona’s federal courtrooms are located in the major metropolitan areas, many residents in remote areas—including on Tribal Lands—face logistical challenges seeking justice. That includes delayed investigations from a lack of federal law enforcement resources, delayed prosecution decisions, and hours-long trips to engage with the courts and judges.
- In the 116th Congress, Stanton advocated for and helped advance a bill to expand access to federal courts in Arizona by amending the U.S. code to allow Flagstaff and Yuma to hold district court proceedings. H.R. 1569 was signed into law in 2019.
Judge Humetewa’s full written testimony, including statistics and visual exhibits, is available here.
Video of Stanton’s comments and questions in the hearing is available here.