From a historical perspective, 2014 was a pivotal year for the youngest circuit court in the nation. Within a four-month period, three new judges were confirmed and sworn in to serve on the Eleventh Circuit—all having clerked for distinguished Eleventh Circuit judges and all of them women. Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, a former U.S. District Judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge, and Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida, was elevated to the seat left vacant by Judge Rosemary Barkett. Judge Julie E. Carnes, a former U.S. District Judge and Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia, assumed the seat vacated by now Senior Judge James Edmondson. And Judge Jill A. Pryor, formerly a litigation partner at the Atlanta-based law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, holds the seat left vacant by Judge Stanley Birch. This dramatic turnover of a quarter of the court’s authorized judgeships transformed the Eleventh Circuit into one of the most gender-balanced federal appellate courts in the country, with five active female judges to the court’s six active male judges. There is no doubt that the new judges will enjoy long careers in which they will have ample opportunity to influence the development of the law of the circuit. More immediately, however, their confirmations provide the court with much needed relief. Traditionally, the Eleventh Circuit has been among the busiest circuits, annually shouldering over 500 appeals per judgeship. By December 2013, however, the court had four judicial vacancies and found itself unable to staff its panels with at least two Eleventh Circuit judges. This compelled Chief Judge Carnes to declare a judicial emergency under 28 U.S.C. § 46(b). On October 17, 2014, following the confirmations of the new judges, Chief Judge
Carnes issued General Order 42, vacating the emergency designation. With the confirmation of the new judges, there are now eleven active judges. But the Eleventh Circuit actually has twelve authorized judgeships, the same number as when it was first created. While twelve is a small number in relation to the population now served, and the judges theoretically could request additional judgeships under the judiciary’s own guidelines, Congress has declined to authorize any additional appellate judgeships since 1990. Even if it were inclined to do so, the Eleventh Circuit judges likely would not seek additional positions; they have consistently voiced their opposition to expansion of the court, citing the efficiency, collegiality, coherence, and predictability in the development of law that come with a smaller court.
In 2014, the merit of those values was evident. Incredibly, in 2014, 6,087 appeals were filed and 6,239 appeals were terminated. Though hindered by four judicial vacancies for the greater part of the year, the court terminated 3,796 appeals on the merits and 356 through written decisions, more than any other circuit on both an absolute and per judgeship basis. Further, despite terminating more appeals per judgeship than any other circuit, the court was able to maintain the speedy administration of justice, ranking fifth among the twelve circuits in median case turnover. This productivity, notable in and of itself in light of the judicial vacancies, is more impressive considering the breadth and importance of the issues considered.
As one might imagine, the court considered an array of substantive and procedural issues in 2014. While the court did not issue any blockbuster opinion matching the likes of Bush v. Gore or that striking down the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, it did consider a range of issues of first impression, including the scope of medical malpractice liability on the high seas and the constitutionality of enforcing “no loitering” signs posted by private individuals. Moreover, the addition of the three female judges has ushered in a new era of diversity on the court, which is likely to impact how the court approaches the issues presented to it, particularly social issues.
HT Glenn Sugameli