Along with the rest of America, the Judiciary confronted significant challenges in 2020, led by the need to meet its constitutional obligations amid a deadly global pandemic. Federal courts learned to keep operations going, despite restricted access to courthouses, with a quickly evolving reliance on technology and the resilience of a 30,000-strong workforce, according to the Annual Report of the Director, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), published on Tuesday.
The report details the Judiciary’s response to the COVID-19 crisis as well as its perseverance through other extraordinary challenges during the year.
James C. Duff, the AO Director in 2020, wrote in his introduction to the report, “Five events contributed significantly to the intensity of challenges the Branch faced: the global pandemic; the tragic murder of Judge Esther Salas’ only child, Daniel, at their home in New Jersey; civil unrest in the country; a flurry of legislative activity in the lame duck session of Congress; and a cybersecurity breach that affected several federal government entities including our Branch.”
The challenges presented the Judiciary with “opportunities for improvements,” Duff noted. In addition to the many adjustments needed to operate during a pandemic, the Judiciary actively pushed for new security measures to protect judges, undertook new diversity and inclusion initiatives, and worked with other government entities on beefed up cybersecurity.
The efforts and activities of the courts throughout the year are explained in detail in the report. The accompanying Judicial Business of the United States provides statistical tables about federal caseloads by circuit, district, and offense, among other topics, and is also statutorily required.
The 2020 Judicial Business section of the report shows that total case filings in federal district courts grew 39 percent to 544,460. Civil case filings rose 58 percent to 470,581, and criminal filings declined 20 percent to 73,879. Petitions filed in U.S. bankruptcy courts dropped 21 percent to 612,561. Filings in the U.S. courts of appeals remained relatively stable, falling less than 1 percent to 48,190.
The 2020 Annual Report was Duff’s 11th and final report to Judicial Conference, Congress, and the public. He retired as Director of the AO on Feb. 1, 2021. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., appointed Chief Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, of the Eastern District of New York, to replace Duff.