Welcome to our Blog



60 Years Later, Gideon’s Legacy Lives On

Main content

Florida State Prison photographs of Clarence Earl Gideon in 1961.

Florida State Prison photographs of Clarence Earl Gideon in 1961. Credit: State Archives of Florida.

Clarence Earl Gideon, a Florida drifter who spent time in and out of prisons for nonviolent crimes, was an unlikely individual to help redefine a criminal defendant’s right to counsel 60 years ago in the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright.

After being accused of committing felony breaking and entering of a pool hall, the indigent Gideon petitioned the Florida state court to provide him with an attorney free of charge. The judge denied his request, and despite Gideon’s attempt to represent himself, the jury ultimately found him guilty.

From prison, Gideon wrote a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard his case and decided that indigent defendants are entitled to counsel in state criminal trials. Gideon was retried in Florida state court – this time with an appointed lawyer – and found not guilty.

“The promise of the Gideon decision is increasingly important today as we struggle with the widening poverty gap, systemic racism, and unchecked prosecutorial overreach,” said Melody Brannon, federal public defender for the District of Kansas.

The right to appointed counsel had existed in federal criminal cases since the 1930s. But because the Gideon decision reached the much larger universe of state court defendants, it is still recognized as pivotal in making legal representation a reality for defendants accused of serious crimes. Public Defense Week and National Public Defender Day, which occur March 18, commemorate the landmark case and the vital work of public defense lawyers.

“The right to counsel has been a fundamental part of the Constitution since its adoption, and public defense attorneys are critical to ensuring that everyone receives adequate representation in our system of justice,” said U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Defender Services Committee. “The Gideon case remains significant today because it established that no one could pick and choose who is and isn’t worthy of having the right to counsel because of the size of their wallet.”

In addition to its impact on state courts, Gideon opened a period of intense activity to ensure competent counsel for federal defendants. In 1964, a year after the Gideon ruling, Congress passed the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), which provides funding for court-appointed counsel in federal cases. Today, nearly 90 percent of federal criminal defendants are aided by lawyers, investigators and experts paid for under the Criminal Justice Act.

Many defenders and judges call the CJA a shining success. “It’s been called the gold standard of public defense,” Catherine C. Blake, then-chair of the Defender Services Committee, said in 2014, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the CJA. “The Criminal Justice Act and the right to counsel have greatly strengthened the fairness and integrity of our system of justice.”

Image of men standing and sitting

A 1931 Alabama rape case led the Supreme Court to declare, a year later, that failure to appoint counsel could violate the Constitution.

Carlos Williams, executive director of Southern District of Alabama Federal Defenders, Inc., a nonprofit organization that defends clients in the district, cited Powell v. Alabama to capture the critical work of public defense lawyers in our criminal justice system. The 1932 Supreme Court decision helped set the stage for a right to counsel in all felony cases.

“Even the intelligent and educated layman,” Justice George Sutherland wrote, “requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.”

Williams said, “Toughened sentencing laws have made a robust public defense more critical than ever.”

The Judiciary’s Defender Services Office is committed to protecting the right to counsel and works to even the courtroom odds through continuing education, training, and support for defenders and panel attorneys across the country. The Judiciary has also taken several steps toward implementing the interim recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the CJA, also known as the Cardone Report.

“We honor the Gideon decision by striving for a robust and institutionally sound system of public defense,” Brannon said. “In the federal system, that means implementing recommendations in the Cardone Report, sufficient defense funding — for defenders and panel attorneys — in parity with the prosecution, and a voice in judicial policy decisions. Budgets and policy are moral documents, and how we invest in public defense reflects our system’s moral valuation of equal justice for all.”

Visit the Sixth Amendment Activities page to learn more about the right to counsel.

Related Topics: Judicial History

Women Judges Reflect on Constance Baker Motley’s Legacy

Main content

Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge, poses with a group of colleagues.

In 1992, the organization Just the Beginning celebrated the diversifying of the federal Judiciary. Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge, poses with a group of colleagues. Motley remains revered by the many judges and law clerks she mentored. Credit: U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson.

Constance Baker Motley was the first African American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, and the first to serve as a federal judge. For all her achievements, Motley’s most-lasting legacy may be the generations of women she inspired to pursue careers in the law.

A 1998 portrait of U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley.

A 1998 portrait of U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley. Credit: Chester Higgins Archive.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, judges reflected on the life and career of the revered trailblazer and civil rights hero.

“She had extraordinary intelligence, fortitude, personal presence, and a desire to have an impact in the world,” said Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who served as a law clerk for Motley, and later was a fellow judge with Motley in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York until Motley’s death in 2005. “Projecting that confidence and intelligence is the only way she could have survived and been successful at what she did.”

Motley played a pivotal role in the fight to end racial segregation from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. As a front-line lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Motley personally led the litigation that integrated the Universities of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, among others. By the time she left the NAACP in 1965, Motley had personally argued 10 Supreme Court cases (winning nine) and assisted in nearly 60 cases that reached the high court.

Appointed to the bench in 1966, Motley quietly befriended and guided younger women judges. Her influence as a mentor was especially pronounced among Black women judges. Judge Anne Thompson, of the District of New Jersey, received a personal note shortly after her appointment in 1979. “She was just a very gracious person,” said Thompson, who eventually brought her law clerks to meet with Motley every year.

Constance Baker Motley and Judge Anne Thompson, of the District of New Jersey.

As a federal judge, Constance Baker Motley befriended and mentored many who followed her onto the bench. Here she is with Judge Anne Thompson, of the District of New Jersey. Credit: Judge Thompson.

While Motley was personally reserved and expected long hours of herself and her chambers staff, Swain also found her to be intensely loyal to her law clerks, inviting them annually to a chambers holiday party. Motley also built confidence by entrusting clerks with highly demanding assignments.

“The trust she gave her clerks was mind-boggling, but it taught me I could do this work,” Swain said. “You’d look in a mirror and say, ‘If she believes I can do this, I must be able to do this.’ And I did.”

In addition to her own clerks, Motley inspired generations of women lawyers who became judges themselves, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Today, there are 299 female judges, including four Supreme Court justices. Women make up nearly 40 percent of the courts’ full-time, active Article III judges.

“I proudly stand on Judge Motley’s shoulders, sharing not only her birthday but also her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law,” Jackson said following her nomination at the White House. “Judge Motley’s life and career has been a true inspiration to me as I have pursued this professional path.”

Related Topics: Judicial History

Courthouse Learning Center Opens in Indianapolis

Main content

Visitors view exhibits at the new learning center at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.

Visitors view exhibits at the new learning center at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.

The new Federal Court Learning Center in Indianapolis is now open and ready to welcome students and adults to learn about the important role the Judiciary plays in daily life.

“The new learning center provides visitors with the opportunity to explore and understand the judicial branch of our government and the role of citizens in the federal courts,” said Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the Southern District of Indiana. “We hope the new facility and our other civics education exhibits help to build trust and confidence within the community we serve.”

The center, which is geared to middle school and high school students and teachers, is one of a growing number of civics education centers, museums, and exhibits in federal court buildings across the country. Educational materials at the facilities include information and activities about the Constitution, landmark Supreme Court cases, federal court basics, jury service, and careers in the U.S. justice system.

At the new learning center at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, visitors learn about the building’s art and architecture and view exhibits about the role of the federal courts, the types of cases heard by the federal Judiciary, and careers in the federal court system.

The center was funded by the Historical Society of the Southern District of Indiana and is expected to attract about 5,000 visitors this year. The Indianapolis center is open to the public for self-guided tours on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information on scheduling a guided tour or class field trip, contact tours@insd.uscourts.gov.

Courthouse learning centers are expected to open in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota over the next two years.

Learning centers and educational exhibits across the country include:




New York


To find educational court programs at the nearest federal courthouse, contact the federal courts’ national educational outreach manager Rebecca Fanning. Visit the educational resources section for additional programs and activities.

Related Topics: Public Education

Federal Courts and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy

Main content

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Credit: Trikosko, M. S., photographer. (1964) Martin Luther King press conference / MST., 1964. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Martin Luther King, Jr., changed history. At several critical moments, federal courts played a key role in helping King correct injustices.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2023, learn about three cases where King and his allies successfully turned to the federal courts when other options failed.

  • “Rosa Parks – Ride to Justice”, a U.S. Courts-produced video, tells how the historic Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which King led following Parks’ arrest in 1955, was successfully resolved through a federal lawsuit. In 1956, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation on buses to be unconstitutional.  
  • Court’s Legacy Intertwined With Martin Luther King, Jr.’s” recalls how the career of King and federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., intersected at two key junctures: during the bus boycott and also the 1965 Selma voting-rights marches.
  • Court Recalls MLK’s Last Legal Battle” describes a suit filed by King to affirm his right to stage a peaceful protest march in Memphis, Tennessee. A federal judge upheld the marchers’ First Amendment rights on April 4, 1968. Barely an hour later, King was shot to death on a motel balcony.

Additional information about the federal courts and the civil rights movement is available at African American Heritage Month.

Related Topics: Public Education

Chief Justice Roberts Issues 2022 Year-End Report

Main content

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has issued his 2022 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary (pdf).

This is the 18th report Chief Justice Roberts has issued since he was appointed chief justice in 2005.

For reports from previous years, visit the U.S. Supreme Court website.

Related Topics: United States Supreme Court

In COVID-19, Judicial Conference Met Its Ultimate Challenge

Main content

Judge James K. Bredar in plastic facemask

In the early days of COVID-19, Chief Judge James K. Bredar of the District of Maryland wore a plastic face shield while in the courtroom. Plexiglass barriers were added throughout the courtroom for additional safety.

For more than 130 years, federal courts worked largely in isolation from one another — a necessity in times when judges traveled by horse, then train, and finally Model-T automobiles.

That began to change in 1922, when Chief Justice William Howard Taft persuaded Congress to create the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, a national policy body that later was renamed the Judicial Conference of the United States. Taft said more unified leadership was needed, declaring that “heretofore, each judge has paddled his own canoe.”

Judge Audrey G. Fleissig

Judge Audrey G. Fleissig

When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, Taft’s vision of a Judiciary that could work in unison was put to perhaps its greatest test. For critical weeks and months, the Judiciary’s very ability to conduct proceedings was endangered. The Conference, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), and judges and court staff across the country worked tirelessly to keep courts open and safe.

“I am just so proud of what the courts did, and it couldn’t have happened without the coordinated contribution of everybody,” said Judge Audrey G. Fleissig, who was chair of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management when COVID-19 struck. “We kept our courts open and moving, and that was a monumental endeavor that took everyone’s best efforts.”

As with most of America, COVID-19’s rapid escalation caught the Judiciary off-guard. The last major pandemic had occurred during World War I, so there was no institutional memory to draw on.

“We had never experienced something like this, and we really weren’t the best prepared,” said Judge L. Scott Coogler, a member of the Judicial Conference Executive Committee. “Even in March [2020], we didn’t have a good grip on how long it would take. There still was a certain amount of, how bad is this going to be? Is it going to be a month? A few weeks?”

Judge L. Scott Coogler

Judge L. Scott Coogler

As the reality became clearer, virtually all facets of the justice system were thrown into disarray.

Many courts canceled jury trials, and some closed their doors to the public. Defendants, locked down in detention facilities, could not be transported to courthouses, or even communicate with lawyers. Courts clamored for protective gear for employees, and questions abounded on how to keep the air safe inside courthouses.

The AO immediately convened a national task force that brought together judges, clerks of court, probation chiefs, federal defenders, and other court leaders from around the country. Also invited were agencies that intersected with the courts — the Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals Service, and General Services Administration.

For 18 months, the AO COVID-19 Task Force identified the most pressing policy and operational issues affecting the courts. The task force and the AO played a critical role in coordinating the Judicial Conference committees, communicating with Congress, and researching common issues from a national perspective. Best practices, collected from circuits and districts, were posted on a Judiciary intranet site, receiving hundreds of thousands of visits from judges and court staff across the country.

“A strength of our court system is its ‘federal’ nature. We rely on localized administration from the circuits and districts when it makes sense and is most efficient,” said James C. Duff, who as AO director in 2020 convened the COVID-19 task force. “But it was one of the biggest challenges in the pandemic.  There are times when strong, centralized uniformity is needed, and the COVID-19 crisis called for that.”

Revising Criminal Procedures

In the early days, one crisis loomed above all others. With no safe way to convene juries, lawyers, or defendants, video and teleconference proceedings were quickly seen as essential.

The civil and bankruptcy rules provided judges with enough flexibility to hold virtual proceedings. But live video or audio transmissions generally were not authorized in federal criminal cases, and for some criminal proceedings were expressly forbidden.

Judge David G. Campbell

Judge David G. Campbell

“The federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, for very good reasons, largely required in-person proceedings,” said Judge David G. Campbell, then chair of the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. “The rules in most of the important criminal proceedings did not allow video conferences or teleconferences. It just wasn’t there. And yet now we couldn’t hold in-person proceedings.”

By statute, changes to the federal rules of procedure take years. Because there is no expedited method for amending the rules, legislation was the only answer. Congressional staff initially proposed to the Supreme Court that Congress rewrite the rules of criminal procedure and some statutes related to the courts. One proposal was to amend the Speedy Trial Act, which could have led to longer pretrial detention for defendants.

The overture led to an urgent sprint by the Judicial Conference and AO to propose alternative language for inclusion in the CARES Act, a COVID-19 relief bill that was on a fast track in Congress.

“I think we actually had nine or 10 days,” Campbell recalled. “It was an all-hands-on-deck, 18-hours-a-day period that was very different from our normal rules process.”

The Rules Committee conducted an initial assessment of a possible legislative remedy.

“Over the course of 24 hours, we formulated a response to Congress and reached some basic conclusions,” Campbell said. “One was we shouldn’t amend the criminal rules directly. We should put in place an interim authorization to do things differently during this crisis and not beyond. It is hard to foresee all the effects that a rules change will make, which is one reason a slow, thoughtful, deliberative process is so important.”

The AO, which staffs Judicial Conference committees and supports the federal Judiciary in numerous areas of shared administration, looped in many Judicial Conference committees and took the lead in communicating with Congress. The process soon expanded to include Defender Services, Court Administration and Case Management, and other Conference committees, as well as the Justice Department and congressional staff.

Over the next six or seven days, and with critical input from the chair, members, and reporters of the Criminal Rules Advisory Committee, the group identified a dozen criminal case procedures that could be conducted by video or teleconference during COVID-19. These included a defendant’s initial appearance, arraignment, preliminary hearing, change of plea, and sentencing.

Important revisions were made to guard defendants’ rights. Public defenders insisted that virtual proceedings occur only with a defendant’s informed consent, and there was no amendment to the Speedy Trial Act. To permit video proceedings, district courts had to declare a COVID-19 emergency and renew that declaration every 90 days. Virtual criminal proceedings would end after the COVID-19 emergency was declared over.

Even then, it wasn’t certain the Judiciary’s language would be accepted.

“We were communicating with Congress in an environment where Congress was doing a thousand things,” Campbell said. “On March 24, we were told by a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer that our changes probably weren’t going to get into the CARES Act. I went to bed that night thinking this whole thing had failed. And now what are we going to do?”

In the early hours of March 25, the Rules Committee language was restored. “When I woke up, I had an e-mail from that staffer saying the changes are in and the law has been passed,” Campbell said.

“It was a tight deadline, but we made it,” Duff said. “Getting input from all the relevant Conference committees was crucial to winning buy-in from the Conference and the circuits. We succeeded in large part because we could represent to Congress that our proposals had input from all constituencies, including from the Defender Services Committee.”

James C. Duff

Former AO Director James C. Duff

Even with passage of the CARES Act, Judicial Conference policy did not permit broadcasting of court proceedings in either criminal or civil cases. The Executive Committee swiftly voted to permit public and media access to electronic criminal and civil hearings during the COVID-19 emergency. 

Thus, in a matter of weeks, the CARES Act provisions and the actions of many conference committees allowed most criminal and civil proceedings to continue with public access, even in courthouses that were fully closed to the public.

Between the Act’s emergency procedures and the courts’ electronic filing systems, few federal courts amassed big case backlogs.

“The courts were able almost immediately to pivot and function remotely,” Fleissig said. “Even when the courthouse wasn’t open, we kept cases moving. About a year ago, I was at a place where I had no COVID backlog. That’s incredible.”

A ‘Centralized Source’

Courts still faced countless operational challenges.

With the help of the AO COVID-19 Task Force, protective gear was purchased for the courts, and vaccines were made available to court personnel. Best practices for purifying air supplies were identified, and a procedure was adopted for modifying restrictions in courts based on local health conditions.

“It was a wonderful example of coordination and cooperation among the circuits, and with the AO and the Judicial Conference serving as a centralized source of information,” said Duff. “Our staff did an incredible job of being responsive to the circuits.”

Judge James K. Bredar

Judge James K. Bredar

Although courts determined COVID-19 strategies locally, having a national information source was invaluable, said Judge James K. Bredar, a member of the AO COVID-19 Task Force.

“The Judiciary loves its flat governance structure. It’s one of the things that guarantees judicial independence,” said Bredar, chief judge of the District of Maryland. “But it does have a weakness. When an unexpected, massive event like COVID sweeps over the Judiciary, suddenly all of the disparate courts are seeking centralized, coherent advice and guidance.”

Many judges did coordinate locally, Bredar said. In the mid-Atlantic, he organized a group of about 15 chief judges who consulted about COVID-19 through email and occasional conference calls.

“Courts operate in different regions, with differing cultures on how cautiously they needed to address the pandemic,” he said. “Consultation with other chief judges in a climate similar to my own was extremely helpful.”

Resuming Jury Trials

As courts resumed procedural hearings, they turned to the far more complex question of how to stage a jury trial safely. Many courts redesigned courtrooms, and some installed plexiglass barriers.

Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. stands in a courtroom in Charlotte, NC.

Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr.

Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr., of the Western District of North Carolina, held a jury trial months after COVID-19 began. The case was tried in a spacious ceremonial courtroom, and jurors sat socially distanced in the spectator area, where benches for public visitors had been removed.  To preserve distance and anonymity, the jury deliberated in a magistrate judge’s courtroom down the hall.

“We conducted two mock trials, and when we had acquired sufficient information and buy-in from the different players, we tried our first criminal trial,” Conrad recalled. “The defendant was acquitted, and he went home to his family that night. It reinforced to us the importance of the jury trial. If there was a way to safely do this, we were constitutionally obligated to try.”

Working with the AO COVID-19 Task Force, Conrad chaired a subgroup of 10 judges, two court executives, and a federal defender and U.S. attorney on how to conduct safe jury trials. The participants represented courts of all sizes and came from rural and urban areas. On June 4, less than three months after courts first shut down, the subgroup delivered a report filled with best practices.

They addressed high-level issues — courts were encouraged to use multiple courtrooms, with separate spaces for the trial, for jury deliberations, and for spectators to watch a video feed. Similarly, wireless headsets with secure channels could enable defense lawyers and defendants to confer confidentially while seated apart.

The subgroup also identified easily missed health threats, such as how jurors might share a refrigerator and microwave during breaks, and the need to dispose of jurors’ pens after each trial.

Conrad said the jury subgroup recognized that the pandemic created unique challenges for each court, district, and even divisions within a district, making it impossible to recommend one-size-fits-all solutions. But he was deeply gratified by the group’s determination to assist courts in resuming jury trials safely.

“We were compelled to get together and figure out best practices to be disseminated to our colleagues across the country,” Conrad said. “It was a time of great experimentation under enormous stress, and I think the Judiciary handled it as well as a branch of government could.”

Preparing for the Future

Courthouses have long since resumed federal jury trials, but many continue to use virtual technology practices acquired or perfected during the pandemic, especially in civil and bankruptcy proceedings.

Looking back to early 2020, Duff noted that the Judiciary was better prepared to cope with COVID-19 than might have seemed evident at the time. Especially valuable was experience with prior weather disasters and training to prepare for multiple scenarios, including terrorist attacks.

“We had done emergency preparedness/shutdown training in previous years,” Duff said. “We had prepared manuals that came in handy even if they were not entirely applicable to a pandemic.”

The Judiciary already is working to be ready for future emergencies.

Under a process included in the CARES Act, the Judiciary studied possible rules changes to ease the courts’ response to future emergencies. In September, the Judicial Conference endorsed recommendations from the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.

Judge Claire V. Eagan

Judge Claire V. Eagan

If the Supreme Court and Congress accept the changes, the Judicial Conference could declare a future rules emergency when “extraordinary circumstances relating to public health or safety, or affecting physical or electronic access to a court, substantially impair the court’s ability to perform its functions.”

A new Criminal Rule 62 would address public access to the courts, the number of alternate jurors a court may impanel, and the use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing for certain criminal proceedings, if a future emergency is declared.

Judge Claire V. Eagan, who served as chair of the Judicial Conference’s Executive Committee throughout the COVID-19 crisis, before leaving the Conference in September, said the Judiciary’s pandemic response was the ultimate validation of Chief Justice Taft’s vision for a national conference of judges to guide the federal courts.

“I believe it is the shining example of how the Judicial Conference is poised to address any type of emergency, including one that impacts every single court in the United States,” Eagan said. “And I think it is the example we will use going forward as the model of how to respond to any type of emergency.”

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States

Congress Passes the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act

Main content

U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, New Jersey

U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, New Jersey

The federal judge who lost her only child when a gunman opened fire at her home and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) expressed gratitude today for the passage by Congress of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act.

New Jersey District Judge Esther Salas said, “I want to thank Congress for honoring my son Daniel’s memory, and for helping protect my brothers and sisters on the bench.

“Judges, and their families, should not live in fear for doing the job they are sworn to do. As a nation and as a people, we cannot accept this. This legislation will make it harder for violent individuals to find judges’ addresses and other personal information online. By better protecting judges, the bill also helps safeguard the judicial independence guaranteed by the Constitution.”

On behalf of the federal Judiciary, Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the AO Director, also expressed her appreciation. In a statement today, she said, “We are grateful to Congress for taking this important step to protect federal judges and their families. Our democracy depends on judges who are free to make decisions without fear of reprisal or retribution.

“No other judge should go through the horrific experience that Judge Salas had – witnessing her son’s murder and the critical wounding of her husband at the family home by a gunman who located her personally identifiable information on the internet. This legislation recognizes the unique position judges occupy and will help protect them and their family where they are most vulnerable, at home.”

The bill was strongly endorsed by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the federal courts. It cleared the final hurdle in Congress on Thursday when the Senate voted 83-11 to pass the annual defense authorization bill with the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act attached. President Biden is expected to sign the bill.

Daniel Anderl was fatally shot in July 2020 and Salas’s husband Mark Anderl was critically wounded when a former litigant came to the family’s door posing as a deliveryman. The gunman found the judge’s personal information on the internet. Daniel, a student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., had just turned 20.

The bill, which had broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, will protect judges’ personally identifiable information from resale by data brokers. It also will allow federal judges to redact personal information displayed on federal government internet sites and prevent publication of personal information by other businesses and individuals where there is no legitimate news media or other public interest.

Related Topics: Legislation

New Courthouse in N.C. Weds Past and Present

Main content

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr.’s interest in courtroom design began decades before he helped plan a new federal court building in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As a young lawyer, Conrad practiced in Albemarle County, Virginia. When he addressed jurors, they stared back from a jury box positioned in the center of the courtroom. Unlike typical courtroom designs, where the jury box is to one side, jurors sat in front of the judge’s bench with a direct view of the witness box located in the middle of the well. The arrangement “left an indelible impression on me,” Conrad said.

The architect who designed the Albemarle County Courthouse with the unique jury space? Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s third president.

Today, Conrad has helped to resurrect Jefferson’s inspiration, in his home courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a new court annex opened last year, the jury box in one courtroom is positioned in front of the judge, just as they were in Jefferson’s day. The courtroom is the first of its kind outside the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“The idea was that the jury, which judges the facts, and the judge, who is the judge of the law, share responsibility for a fair trial, so the architecture should speak to that shared authority,” said Conrad, who along with then Chief Judge Frank D. Whitney managed the courthouse project for the Western District of North Carolina. “The center placement of the jurors recognizes their role and duty as the ultimate fact-finder. And importantly, it emphasizes the democratic notion of citizen participation in the quest for justice.”

A new courthouse in Charlotte had been on the federal Judiciary’s five-year plan since 1995, to replace the aging Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, which opened in 1918 and was expanded in 1933. Its problems included a shortage of courtrooms, leaky roofs, and irreparable safety issues.

After 20 years of waiting, Charlotte became one of eight new federal court buildings to receive full funding from Congress in late 2015. The extraordinary appropriations bill jump-started long-stalled courthouse projects across the country.

“This investment is essential to providing access and safety to all,” said Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee. “It enables judges, jurors, lawyers, court employees, parties to a case, and the public to focus on the administration of justice in a fitting setting.”

A corridor connects the old federal courthouse with the new annex building, known as the Wing.

A corridor connects the old federal courthouse with the new annex building, known as the Wing. “You can barely tell you’ve gone from one to the other,” says Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. “The transition is seamless.”

But instead of replacing the old courthouse in Charlotte, the Court chose to accept funding for an annex. The new eight-story annex contains judicial chambers, nine courtrooms and other needed tenant space. The Jonas building was renovated primarily for administrative purposes, but it retains the ceremonial Robert D. Potter Courtroom.

Conrad said the two buildings are so harmonious that the newer structure is referred to as “the Wing,” rather than as an annex, to accentuate their continuity.

“There’s a beautiful corridor connecting the entrance of the 100-year-old Jonas building to the new structure. You can barely tell you’ve gone from one to the other,” Conrad said. “The transition is seamless.”

As part of the Art and Architecture component of federal courthouse design, the new annex contains seven exterior mosaics depicting significant aspects of history that occurred on the courthouse site. Images include a U.S. Mint Building, a postal carrier, a classroom scene commemorating the Swann v. Board of Education desegregation case, a military recruitment center where a soldier salutes an American flag, and a naturalization ceremony. Conrad predicted the mosaics will become “an iconic part of the city.”

A new courtroom in Charlotte, N.C., replicates an Albermarle County, Virginia, courtroom designed by Thomas Jefferson. The jury box is placed in the center, in front of the judge, while counsel tables are placed to the side.

A new courtroom in Charlotte, N.C., replicates an Albermarle County, Virginia, courtroom designed by Thomas Jefferson. The jury box is placed in the center, in front of the judge, while counsel tables are placed to the side.

The trial courtroom with the center-based jury box is known as the “Virginia Revival Model,” which Conrad discussed in detail in a 2021 article in Judicature magazine. Early reviews have been positive.

“We’ve had a dozen or more jury trials in that courtroom,” Conrad said. “We’ve talked to jurors, who loved being in the center of the action and able to directly observe witnesses, as opposed to being eavesdroppers off to the side. And the lawyers, who generally don’t like change, have expressed appreciation for the style once they’ve experienced it.”

With the recent completion of renovations in the Jonas building, the project was completed ahead of schedule, within its original $164.7 million budget, all during the pandemic, said Conrad, who said the courthouse community is pleased with the outcome.

“We’re delighted with this new courthouse,” Conrad said. “People are proud to be here, and to work here. The courtrooms are great, the technology is wonderful. Many of us have spent years in this district trying cases in the old courthouse. Preserving the beauty of the historic Jonas Courthouse and the Potter Courtroom, while getting the best of modern technology in the Wing, has been a win-win result for us.”

Related Topics: Courthouses

Facing Fiscal Crises, Judicial Conference Charted Steady Course

Main content

Judge Julia S. Gibbons and W. West Allen testifying in 2013

In July 2013, Judge Julia S. Gibbons and W. West Allen, of the Federal Bar Association, prepare to testify in Congress about the impact of sequestration on federal courts.

Sequestration was a slow-motion fiscal catastrophe, erupting after two years of negotiation failed to prevent it. Starting in 2011, Congress mandated sharp spending cuts if an agreement to reduce budget deficits could not be reached. The universal expectation was that the dire consequences of sequestration would force Congress to compromise.

But on March 1, 2013, Congress did step off a “fiscal cliff,” and sequestration began. A day before the deadline, Judge Thomas F. Hogan, then-director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), notified federal judges that the Judiciary faced an imminent loss of $350 million. Similar crises raged across the federal government.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan

Judge Thomas F. Hogan

“It is becoming increasingly likely that Congress and the Administration will be unable to come to an agreement,” Hogan wrote. “Please be assured that we will continue to impress upon Congress the devastating impact of sequestration on the courts.”

Between July 2011 and January 2014, budget constraints, exacerbated by sequestration, reduced staffing in clerks of court and probation and pretrial services offices by nearly 3,300 positions – 15 percent of their total staff. The cuts also posed ongoing threats to the representation of defendants, treatment for individuals under court supervision, and the physical safety of court personnel. But by working together nationally to limit spending, the Judiciary rode out the crisis.

Sequestration was one of several budget emergencies in the last 25 years that underscore the dramatic ways financial governance has changed under the Judicial Conference of the United States, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

In 2004, the Conference launched an ongoing cost-reduction campaign in the face of potentially crippling deficits. And in 2013 and 2018-19, the Judiciary continued operations through two government shutdowns. In each case, the Judiciary emerged with a deepened commitment to prudent spending.

“We’ve demonstrated that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Judge Julia S. Gibbons, former chair of the Conference’s Committee on the Budget. “We apply the same analytical skills that we use in deciding cases to making decisions about our budget and our approach to management.”

Chief Justice William Howard Taft

Chief Justice William Howard Taft persuaded Congress to create a national conference of judges in 1922. In 1939, a newly created Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts began drafting the Judiciary’s budget.

In 1922, Chief Justice William Howard Taft first convened the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, which was the predecessor to the Judicial Conference. At that time, the Department of Justice administered federal court budgets, and it was all but impossible for the Judiciary to set national fiscal objectives.

In 1939, the newly formed AO took over budgeting duties, and some centralized budgeting worked well. But it became clear that efficiencies could be achieved by localizing some budgeting practices. Many spending decisions are made locally by 94 district courts and 13 judicial circuits, making coordinated national responses to budget crises challenging.

In more recent times, however, the Judicial Conference has provided centralized leadership when needed — often through the Executive Committee, with ongoing assistance from AO budget and other staff.

In March 2004, Judge Carolyn D. King, then chair of the Executive Committee, alerted Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist that rent costs were eating into program and salary budgets. Without change, growing numbers of employees would lose their jobs to pay for building space.

“Chief Justice Rehnquist didn’t want to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the court system,” King said. “His answer was, ‘This is your responsibility. Get into it and come up with your recommendations about what we do.’”

By September 2004, just six months after King briefed Rehnquist, the Executive Committee, with direction and support from the AO Budget and Space and Facilities offices, presented an ambitious, wide-ranging plan, which the Judicial Conference approved. Known as cost containment, the Judiciary’s policy of restricting unneeded spending remains in effect to this day. 

Judge Carolyn D. King

Judge Carolyn D. King

“We had to get down to our fighting trim, and we did,” King said. “The Judiciary’s money is not our money; it belongs to the taxpayers. So we’d better be very sure that we spend only the money we need to spend.”

Quickly, the Judiciary instituted a moratorium on new construction, until courthouse and office needs could be reassessed, so that space rent costs to General Services Administration (GSA) could be better controlled. Under the Judicial Resources Committee, the Judiciary explored new workforce measurement formulas that ensured more efficient and consistent staffing practices. Over time, technology increased the productivity of administrative staff.

King said the Conference also worked to educate federal judges about the budget process.

“The root financial problem for the Judiciary was that judges generally didn’t have basic information about the factors affecting our budget,” King said. “We had to get all judges up to speed – how it all worked.”

The Executive Committee’s strategy headed off a looming funding crisis. “Projected annual growth rates in most spending areas are lower than before cost containment,” a 2007 AO report said. “The anticipated gap between estimated budget requirements and funding levels has shrunk considerably.”

By early 2013, sequestration posed a very different challenge — surviving the abrupt loss of nearly $350 million in budgeted funds halfway through a fiscal year.

“A 5% across the board cut when you’re not fully funded to begin with could have a devastating impact on the Judiciary,” said Judge Rodney W. Sippel, who was on the Executive Committee as sequestration approached.

In late 2012, Sippel and Judge Robert S. Lasnik, also an Executive Committee member, were directed to plan and oversee the Judiciary’s response to sequestration, if it occurred.

Several major cost areas were off limits, complicating the judges’ work. Rent payments to GSA were mandatory and, under the Constitution, judges’ salaries are protected. Budget experts had to focus on areas where spending could be cut or delayed, such as travel and training for judges and court staff, cyclical IT replacements, and drug and mental health treatment for individuals under supervision.

Sippel and Lasnik met regularly with AO budget experts, and the Executive Committee approved a package of emergency measures. While court budgets were reduced significantly, chief judges and court unit executives retained latitude to make local decisions about specific cuts.

“It was not without trauma, but when you look back on what happened, the courts continued to function,” Sippel said. “Trials continued to happen. Cases were continuing to move. I think from the public’s point of view, the stress that we were under didn’t keep the courts from their primary mission.”

Judge John D. Bates

Judge John D. Bates

Effective communication with Congress also was critical.

Judge John D. Bates, who became AO Director months after sequestration began, learned that some chief judges were drafting a letter to Congress, seeking to protect funding for federal public defenders.

“I reached out to those judges because I was concerned that the focus was a little too narrow,” Bates said. “I convinced them to take a broader approach, and that we should enlist more judges in the effort. We wound up with a several-page letter that touched on various consequences of sequestration. It still focused principally on the federal public defenders, but not exclusively.”

In the end, 87 out of 94 district chief judges signed the letter. “The members of Congress were receiving something from a judge in their state or district, and that made it more meaningful to them,” Bates said.

Confronted with the specter of ongoing budget cuts across the federal government, Congress enacted subsequent budget deals that prevented sequestration cuts to discretionary appropriations. Gradually, the fiscal threat posed by sequestration dissipated.

But throughout the emergency, the Judiciary had to make painful choices. In a few districts, criminal proceedings were halted on days when federal public defenders were furloughed. Court-appointed private lawyers, known as CJA panel attorneys, temporarily had their hourly rates cut, and payments were suspended altogether for the last three weeks of the fiscal year.

“Delaying payments on CJA vouchers to keep things going, that was painful,” Sippel said.

The Judiciary also worked together to maintain operations during two recent federal government shutdowns, in 2013 and 2018-19, as well as during a 21-day shutdown in 1995-96. The Judiciary sustained operations during these periods utilizing court filing fees and available balances from prior fiscal years. The record 35-day shutdown in 2018-19 nearly drained these resources.

James C. Duff

James C. Duff

“We looked for every penny in every circuit so that we could keep the courthouses open,” said then-AO Director James C. Duff. “It was a magnificent example of coordinated teamwork, I think within the judicial branch and circuits, to be able to pull that off.”

Perhaps the most ambitious cost-containment initiative was launched in 2013, when the Judicial Conference approved a nationwide 3 percent reduction in courthouse and office space over a five-year period. The Conference also mandated that new court-related expansion must be offset by an equivalent reduction in existing space.

Judge D. Brooks Smith, who became chair of the Space and Facilities Committee in 2013, crisscrossed the country, urging circuit judges and administrators to meet their reduction targets.

In the end, courts met the goal, reducing offices, libraries, and court chambers — almost every type of court space except courtrooms. Reducing the amount of rentable court space continues to pay off annually, by limiting the growth in the Judiciary’s space rental costs.

“The folks in each circuit and in each court had to make this work, and they did,” Smith said. “This was a remarkably cooperative and well-coordinated effort for which all the administrators of our system deserve credit.”

Smith also noted that the campaign required a high level of collaboration among the three branches of government.

“I see the space reduction effort as a remarkable civics lesson for all of us,” Smith said. “The House committee monitored our progress closely, and the GSA provided consistent cooperation. We never could have reached our reduction goal if GSA had not agreed to take returned space off our rent bill.”

Judge John W. Lungstrum

Judge John W. Lungstrum

The Judiciary is taking a proactive approach to its current budget challenges. After the Judiciary’s budget tightened considerably in recent years, the Executive Committee recently asked Judicial Conference committees to work with the Budget Committee to develop proposals that would help limit the growth of the Judiciary’s budget without negatively impacting the judiciary’s core mission. 

This effort, known as the Strategic Budget Initiative, will take about two years to identify and evaluate proposals, and recommend any changes.

Judges said the Conference’s ability to effectively manage its own finances has been essential to protecting the Judiciary’s central mission, and to maintaining credibility when seeking funding.

“Cost containment is probably the Judiciary’s single most effective appeal to Congress, and that has made it a permanent feature of our budget process,” said Judge John W. Lungstrum, former chair of the Budget Committee. “That is the feedback we’ve gotten from our appropriators. They say, ‘We know the Judiciary is serious about containing costs, and that makes your budget request much more credible in our eyes.’”

Related Topics: Cost Containment, Judicial Conference of the United States, Sequestration

9/11, Weather Disasters Spurred Courts to Stay Open in All Crises

Main content

The Pentagon building in D.C.

Shortly after the Pentagon was struck by a hijacked jet on Sept. 11, 2001, the Judicial Conference of the United States abruptly closed its session at the Supreme Court. Credit: Department of Defense

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
Credit: U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society

The fall session of the Judicial Conference of the United States was off to an uneventful start. On the agenda were policy questions related to online case records and increasing daily juror payments from $30 to $40.

Leading the meeting in the Supreme Court’s East Room was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Known for his quick, decisive manner, Rehnquist usually got through the Conference’s agenda in a few hours.

This session, held Sept. 11, 2001, would be different. It was the only meeting in the Conference’s 100-year history that would be halted before it could be concluded. The Conference completed essential business by mail ballot about a week later.

Rehnquist abruptly closed the meeting around 10 a.m., a half hour after it started, and was led away by U.S. Marshals personnel. The other judges were ushered out of the Supreme Court, unsure what to do next.

Judge Carolyn Dineen King

Judge Carolyn Dineen King 

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Judge Carolyn Dineen King, then-Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. “We got outside the building, and it was just chaos. All you had to do was stop for one minute and some police officer would scream at you.”

September 11 was the first of several national emergencies that have challenged the Judicial Conference in the last 25 years. Although the immediate result was confusion, the terrorist attack had a profound and lasting impact on how the Judiciary operates today.

With help from the Judicial Conference, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), and Congress, courts have learned to plan for — and respond effectively to — natural disasters, civil disturbances, and a global pandemic.

“9/11 was a turning point for courts to realize they had to have a plan for courts to keep going,” said Melanie Gilbert, longtime chief of the AO’s Facilities and Security Office, who recently left the AO for another senior government position. “As these events began to cascade, courts recognized that this is serious. They began to practice all sorts of scenarios.”

On September 11, an exceptionally pretty and temperate day in Washington, little of that planning was in place. Judges inside the Supreme Court building were unaware that a terrorist attack was underway.

Several were puzzled when a staffer briefly stopped Rehnquist during discussions, whispering a message to him. “One of the things you did not do was interrupt that meeting,” King recalled. “I mean that. It was a ticket to trouble.”

A short time later, a second employee came to Rehnquist with a written note.

“The chief justice said, as only he can, ‘Leave all your papers right where they are. I want you to get up and walk out of this room, and follow instructions about how to get out of the building,’” King recalled. Rehnquist was escorted away to an undisclosed location, adding to the other judges’ confusion.

Only gradually as Judicial Conference members left the Supreme Court did they learn of the tragedy unfolding in New York and at the Pentagon. Amid reports that a fourth hijacked jet — which later crashed in Pennsylvania — was flying toward Washington, urgent evacuations were underway across the street at the U.S. Capitol.

Judge John W. Lungstrum

Judge John W. Lungstrum

Walking back to their hotel a few miles away, the judges were “like lost sheep,” recalled District Judge John W. Lungstrum, of Kansas, then chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee. It felt surreal to him as he passed an impromptu sidewalk news conference by then-Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.

“It honestly reminded me of an old-fashioned horror movie,” Lungstrum said. “People were streaming out of all the buildings around Capitol Hill, looking at the sky. Thinking, is something more going to happen?”

With all commercial air traffic shut down across the country, most judges scrambled to join hastily arranged carpools out of Washington. Early on Sept. 12, King rode south in a van with six or eight judges, several of whom were dropped off in Virginia and the Carolinas. After spending the night in Atlanta, she eventually was driven home to Houston.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan, then chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the court’s representative to the Conference, only had to walk a few blocks to reach his own courthouse, but he saw firsthand the chaos his staff had been thrown into. Many employees tried to go home to care for their families, only to return in less than half an hour.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan

Judge Thomas F. Hogan 

“They couldn’t get out because the traffic was just stopped,” Hogan said. “It finally lightened up around 6 p.m., and people left.”

Since September 11, Continuity of Operations Planning, also known as COOP, has played an increasingly central role in Judiciary operations.

A month after the attacks, then-AO Director Leonidas Ralph Mecham, director of the AO, communicated the Judiciary’s security needs to Congress. At the time, every court was urged to put a senior court executive in charge of emergency planning, and to develop a plan to continue operations in all circumstances.

Heightening the urgency was an anthrax scare in October 2001 that forced the Supreme Court to move temporarily to the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in D.C. It was the first time the justices convened away from the Supreme Court building since it opened in 1935.

In 2002, the AO worked with COOP experts to develop a national template plan for operating during emergencies. Assisting were personnel from federal courts in Manhattan, who had learned hard-earned lessons following Sept. 11.

Fallout from the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.

Fallout from the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack affected much of southern Manhattan, including three federal courts located about a mile from Ground Zero.

Located barely a mile from Ground Zero, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the district and bankruptcy courts in the Southern District of New York, had worked through a nightmarish series of obstacles: curtailed building access, information technology disruptions, and physical contamination of courthouses from debris caused by the attack.

Lacking written guidelines, “Our emergency plan was something we developed hour by hour, day by day, individually and together, asking ‘OK, what do we need to do to operate,’” recalled Karen Milton, then-Circuit Executive of the Second Circuit, in a July 2002 interview. “The beauty of having a developed, written plan … is that everyone will know the drill.”

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina further accelerated the Judiciary’s focus on COOP planning. 

King, who was in Washington during the Sept. 11 attacks, was still chief judge in the Fifth Circuit when Katrina devastated New Orleans, and disrupted courts in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

When her court building in New Orleans could not reopen, King persuaded the federal courthouse in Houston to provide space for New Orleans-based personnel. At the urging of the Judicial Conference, Congress passed emergency legislation so that district and appellate courts could operate outside their boundaries when their own court facilities were unavailable.

For more than three months, more than 90 Fifth Circuit employees lived with their displaced families in Houston. They conducted business in cramped quarters while coping with hurricane-related struggles back in New Orleans. In December, King and her husband, Thomas M. Reavley, also a judge in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, honored their staff.

“Some of them had family members die. Some of them had a lot of wreckage. I mean, these were saints, every one of them,” King recalled. “So we needed to do a wonderful lunch and then send them all back to New Orleans for Christmas. It went very well, they were happy.”

In addition to greater planning, technology has helped courts cope with disasters.  

When Cedar Rapids, Iowa, suffered heavy flooding in 2008, staff from the Northern District of Iowa were able to access the court’s computer network and work remotely.

By 2012, when Super Storm Sandy flooded lower Manhattan, all the courts lost electricity for a week, but the bankruptcy court continued to receive online filings. In the District Court, emergency hearings resumed almost immediately, with limited generator power.

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel

With only limited electricity available after Super Storm Sandy in 2012, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel presided over a time-sensitive hearing using a table lamp and natural sunlight to light the courtroom. Credit: Southern District of New York

In a 2012 account written after Sandy, then-Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska summarized the many challenges confronting the Southern District of New York. Staff worked with the post office to reroute mail. Judges, employees, jurors, and litigants were shuttled to and from pickup spots near the courthouse. The U.S. Marshals Service helped get fuel delivered over closed bridges — keeping the court’s emergency generators in operation.

“If there is one lesson that Sandy affirmed, it is that a good game plan is critical,” Preska wrote.

In the fall of 2017, a terrible trio of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria devastated Texas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida, closing multiple courthouses. Court staff at the Santa Rosa, California, courthouse were beset by a different weather-related disaster: some of the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history.

Throughout the crises, judges and court personnel, Roberts noted in his year-end message on Dec. 31, “responded in dedicated and even heroic fashion.”

By the time COVID-19 forced many courthouses to close their buildings in 2020, most courts and the AO conducted regular practice exercises on how to work remotely during emergencies.  

The Judiciary’s 94 district courts, 90 bankruptcy courts, and 13 courts of appeals continued to receive electronic filings and process cases with surprisingly few disruptions, and even adapted quickly to conducting essential court proceedings by video.

Gilbert noted that the AO’s Emergency Management Branch continues to provide guidance, training, and exercises to assist the Courts. As a result, the Judiciary’s preparedness and resilience in the face of emergencies continues to improve.

“It’s a transformed branch from what it was prior to 9/11,” said Gilbert. “It was almost like we’ve been building to the most catastrophic COOP event you could imagine. The pandemic didn’t last two days or two weeks, it lasted more than two years. But we kept courts going, and we eventually figured out how to get back on site.”

Related Topics: Emergency Preparedness, Judicial Conference of the United States

Lets talk about your case...

This form is monitored by legal department, PART 316 – CAN-SPAM RULE. If you will advertise your business using this form, we can open a legal case against you. Think twice.

Trial Lawyers & Legal Services of Colorado, LLC.

8547 East Arapahoe Road J-534
Greenwood Village, CO 80112


(303) 656-9454