U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Study of the Determinants of Case Growth in U.S. Federal District Courts, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2003
William F. Shughart II; Gokhan R. Karahan
Publication Type
Report (Study/Research)
Grant Number(s)
This study analyzed the determinants of the dramatic increase in the caseload of the U.S. Federal district courts that began in 1960.
Using best-practice econometric techniques, the research obtained forecasts of future demands on the Federal courts that are more accurate than those previously available. Based on estimates of autoregressive time series models of civil and criminal cases, using annual data from 1904 to 1998 as well as several subperiods of these years, the research generated out-of-sample forecasts through 2020 that differed significantly from the forecasts of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The out-of-sample forecasts for 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 were much closer to the number of case filings actually observed in those years than were the forecasts by the Judicial Conference of the United States; the estimates obtained in the current research deviated by only about 10,000 cases per year, on average, from the actual numbers. The study's second contribution was to specify and estimate multivariate econometric models of the determinants of civil case filings over time and across geographic areas by using panel data techniques. The study found that Federal civil case filings were influenced significantly by the socioeconomic characteristics of the relevant State, district, or circuit. Civil cases were positively related to per capita income, population density, the percentage of the population that is nonwhite, the unemployment rate, and the size of government. The importance of caseload management was reinforced by analyses of the impact of criminal cases on civil cases; holding constant the time between the filing and disposition of Federal criminal cases, civil cases were disposed of more expeditiously in districts where there were more authorized judgeships per capita. There was also evidence to support the hypothesis that the time series of civil and criminal cases and the time series of authorized Federal judgeships were not cointegrated. Thus, armed with the more accurate forecasts presented from this study, policymakers can be more confident in assessing the need for additional judgeships and can address what is apparently a more pressing problem, i.e., the possible misallocation of judgeships across circuits and districts. 42 references and extensive tables
Date Created: March 15, 2004