Democratic Party Set to Approve Platform That Endorses Court Reform — Including Outright Call for Lower-Court Expansion


August 18, 2020

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‘Democrats Will Commit To Creating New Federal District and Circuit Judgeships,’ Platform Language Says

In Shift, 2020 Platform Devotes Five Times as Many Words to Courts and Judges as 2016 Document

WASHINGTON, DC — At the Democratic National Convention this week, national Democrats are set to approve historic language in the party’s platform calling for structural reform of the federal judiciary — including by adding seats at the district and appellate court level.  

Last month, Demand Justice announced that officials drafting the formal Democratic Party platform had approved language calling for “structural court reform.” An added section of the platform, which is now public, calls specifically for legislation that would add dozens of lower-court judgeships. Both developments mark major victories for the growing movement to reform the judiciary.

In June, Demand Justice co-founders Brian Fallon and Chris Kang published an essay in The American Prospect calling on a future Biden administration to increase the number of lower-court judges, arguing that an expansion of the federal bench could both relieve unmanageable caseloads and also present an opportunity for the next Democratic administration to fill those positions in a way that makes the judiciary look more like America.

Demand Justice Chief Counsel Christopher Kang said: “Democrats have made it clear in this year’s platform that the party must refuse to accept a status quo that undermines justice, equality, and confidence in our judicial system, and fight for the structural reforms we need to fulfill the promise of equal justice under the law. Expanding circuit and district courts is a critical step towards ensuring equal access to justice and making our courts look more like America.”

Throughout the 20th century, Congress regularly increased the number of judges on the federal bench to keep pace with our booming population and growing number of cases. For the past 30 years, the creation of new judgeships has stalled, creating a crisis in which our judiciary has too few judges struggling to manage too many cases. Congress’ failure to create new judgeships has undermined the courts’ ability to function, causing delayed trials that pressure defendants to seek plea bargains and procedural hurdles that keep civil rights plaintiffs out of federal court.Creating new judgeships would also give the next administration another opportunity to begin to reverse the damage Donald Trump has done to the diversity of the courts.

The new language adopted by the Democratic Convention Platform Committee is as follows:

“Since 1990, the United States has grown by one-third, the number of cases in federal district courts has increased by 38 percent, federal circuit court filings have risen by 40 percent, and federal cases involving a felony defendant are up 60 percent, but we have not expanded the federal judiciary to reflect this reality in nearly 30 years. Democrats will commit to creating new federal district and circuit judgeships consistent with recommendations from the Judicial Conference”

Altogether, the 2020 Democratic platform discusses judges and the courts almost five times as much as the 2016 document, a sign of the issue’s rising salience among progressives. A side-by-side comparison of the two platforms’ discussion of the courts is below:

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