The nation's top jurist is sounding a clarion call for more judges to cope with an expected increase in the number of federal court cases. US Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his year-end report for 1987, urges Congress to enact legislation that would create 56 new federal district-courts and 13 more circuit-court judgeships across the United States.
Mr. Rehnquist notes that there are 48 vacancies in the top echelons of the federal bench, including one on the US Supreme Court.
In fact, the highest judicial tribunal of the United States has met since October with eight sitting justices - awaiting a replacement for Lewis Powell Jr., who retired last June.
Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of federal appeals court Judge Anthony Kennedy to replace Mr. Powell were completed before Christmas. His confirmation by the full Senate is not, however, expected to take place until after the Supreme Court's January sessions are over.
Rehnquist's request for 69 new judgeships, sent to Congress last March, would not be affected by the filling of the 48 federal bench positions now vacant.
The chief justice says the federal courts face a heavier workload in coming years, not so much because of additional cases, ``but rather the need to devote more time to the existing volume of criminal cases.''
Much of the increased work will stem from the passage of new federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect Nov. 1, he adds.
``District judges, magistrates, and probation officers are now in the process of adapting to an entirely new system of sentencing,'' the chief justice explains.
``At the trial level, more judicial time will probably have to be devoted to sentencing than in the past in view of the fact-finding requirements under these guidelines,'' he says. ``A new class of issues can now routinely be raised on appeal even though the defendant may not question the validity of any aspect of the guilt-innocence phase of the trial.''
Rehnquist is also asking Congress to carefully consider a pending Judicial Branch Improvement Act that would streamline the administration of justice, including facilitating court-mandated arbitration as an alternative to going to trial.
And the chief justice - like his predecessor, Warren Burger - is urging the creation of a judicial tribunal that would resolve disputes among the federal circuit courts. ``The Supreme Court does not and cannot consider every conflict among the circuits that reaches its docket for review every year,'' he explains.
``A national court of appeals or inter-circuit tribunal would provide a forum for an earlier determination of those issues and promote greater uniformity of interpretation in federal law,'' Rehnquist adds.
In another effort to trim court workload and backlog, the chief justice would eliminate ``diversity jurisdiction'' of certain cases. This would lift the mandate that the federal courts resolve disputes when the litigants come from different states.
The chief justice would also create a Federal Court Study Commission to examine various aspects of the judicial system.