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Three additional federal judgeships for Colorado proposed by US lawmakers


Three additional federal judgeships for Colorado proposed by US lawmakers

May 31, 2023 | 5:45 am ET
By Lindsey Toomer
Three additional federal judgeships for Colorado proposed by US lawmakers
A view of the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse in downtown Denver on May 30, 3023. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Three members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have proposed the addition of three judicial seats to the U.S. District Court of Colorado, which they say is overwhelmed by a growing caseload.

The Colorado Judgeship Act, as introduced by Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper in the Senate, as well as Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette in the House, would add three new seats to the court bench as Colorado’s population continues to grow. The court currently has seven seats, with the most recent judgeship added in 1984.

If passed, the legislation would allow the president to appoint three additional judges subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Colorado only has one federal district with several courts throughout the state, while some states have multiple districts operating courts across different regions. For example, California has 60 judgeships across four districts. 

“Caseload backlogs shouldn’t stand in the way of justice,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We need to expand the number of judges on Colorado’s district court so the bench is sufficient for our growing state.”

Chronology of federal district court judgeships in Colorado

  • 1876: State organized as one judicial district with one judgeship
  • 1954: One judgeship created
  • 1961: One judgeship created
  • 1970: One judgeship created
  • 1978: Two judgeships created
  • 1984: One judgeship created

Source: uscourts.gov

Colorado Politics reported on the drastic increase in civil cases the court has heard since the start of the century, with the caseload reaching its highest level since the court started tracking data. According to census data, Colorado had a population of about 2.9 million people in 1980, compared to the state’s estimated 5.8 million residents in 2020. That’s a 49.9% increase. 

District Court Clerk Jeff Colwell said the court struggles with a continuous backlog as the same number of judges attempts to serve twice the population. He said Colorado is always one of the districts in the country with the highest caseload, typically falling in the top 20 of 94 districts across the country. The district has courts in Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction and Durango. 

A spokesperson for Bennet said the Senate has moved its version of the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House referred its version to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

“As Colorado grows, we need to help our courts administer a fair and efficient justice system,” Bennet said in a statement. “In addition to continuing to confirm eminently qualified judges, this legislation is another step to provide much-needed support to the District Court of Colorado.” 

Bennet and Hickenlooper have recommended five judges to serve on the court, with one appointee awaiting consideration of the full Senate to fill a current vacancy.

“We must ensure that Colorado’s growing population has proper judicial representation, which means advocating for additional judges to be added to the state’s federal district court,” Neguse said in a statement.

Several districts added temporary judgeships around the turn of the century, and continued to extend them in recent years. The most recent permanent judgeship Congress created was for North Carolina’s Western District in 2002, when three other temporary judgeships were made permanent in other districts.