Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a long-overdue bill to address equal justice in Idaho and in other federal courts. This issue has been a top priority for me since I joined the Judiciary Committee in 2013.
H.R. 6755 authorizes a third U.S. District judge for Idaho to relieve delays due to overburdened caseloads. It also adds judges in 12 other states.
Working with the legal community in Idaho, I made the case to committee leadership to secure a third judge. After four years of pressing, I received support from Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and in January 2017 introduced my bill, H.R. 503, to add the third judge in Idaho.
The effort paid off when an additional Idaho judgeship was included in the larger bill that passed Thursday. I was gratified to see the Committee approve the bill and send it to the full House.
As a young lawyer, I worked in Idaho’s federal court system and saw the consequences of delay. This included frustration and heartache for both victims and defendants in criminal cases, and uncertainty and economic loss for those in civil matters. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is more than an old adage. It hurts people and our economy.
Idaho’s caseload per judge ranks substantially higher than most U.S. courts, particularly in felony criminal filings. Hearing cases in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello, judges and court personnel work long hours. We got some relief last year, when Judge David Nye, President Trump’s nominee, was confirmed in the Senate. But from 2015 to 2017, Idaho had just one full-time district court judge.
The lack of judicial resources in Idaho has been confirmed by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has declared a judicial emergency. To fill the gap, dozens of judges from other states have presided over Idaho cases in recent years.
Idaho’s fast-paced growth has contributed to the problem. At statehood in 1890, Idaho had one district judge. A second was added in 1954 when the population reached 600,000. Idaho’s population is now almost three times that, at 1.7 million, and Idaho is projected to remain one of America’s fastest growing states. With two authorized judgeships, Idaho ranks 90th among the 94 courts.
I applaud the hard work of judges and clerks to keep the courts running. But Idahoans need a system that ensures fairness and efficiency. The courts are essential to our system of government and delay has dire consequences in both civil and criminal cases.
We took an important step toward equal justice last week. I will continue to work to advance the bill through the House.