In 2021, the Judiciary confronted uniquely trying times: The global pandemic placed serious constraints on the courts for a second straight year, unanticipated spikes in caseloads were driven by the Jan. 6 upheaval at the Capitol and other events, and cybersecurity threats to government technology systems continued unabated.
The Judiciary met these challenges over the course of the year by finding innovative solutions to emerging problems while keeping on track several initiatives that are vital to the Judiciary’s future, such as the modernization of its massive case management system and the efforts to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all of the 30,000 people who work for the federal court system, reports Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf in the Annual Report of the Director Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), published on Tuesday.
“Most importantly, in the face of trying times, we met our obligations under the Constitution as an independent and co-equal branch of government, just as the federal courts have done for more than two centuries,” AO Director Mauskopf wrote in her introduction to the report.
The report, organized in 12 chapters, details the work of the AO and the courts in 2021. It describes the Judiciary’s measures to keep employees and the public safe while easing and tightening restrictions as needed during fluctuating local health conditions during the pandemic. Other chapters provide highlights on developments in budgeting for court operations, the Judiciary’s relations with Congress, efforts to maintain high standards of accountability and transparency, and the critical contributions of federal public defenders and probation and pretrial offices around the country to the U.S. system of justice.
In the accompanying Judicial Business of the United States, the Judiciary provides statistical tables about federal caseloads by circuit, district, and offense, among other topics. It compares data for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2021, with data for prior years.
The Judicial Business report shows that total case filings in federal district courts fell 23 percent to 419,032. Civil case filings declined 27 percent to 344,567, and criminal filings increased by 1 percent to 74,465. Petitions filed in bankruptcy courts declined 29 percent to 434,540. Filings in the courts of appeals fell by 8 percent to 44,546. The overall pattern of decline in case filings was attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both reports are required by statute and are provided to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal courts policy-making body, Congress, and the public.