Wednesday, November 6, 2002
State to Get More Federal Judges as Bush Signs Justice Bill
By a MetNews Staff Writer
President Bush has signed into law a Department of Justice reauthorization bill that creates one new judgeship for the Central District of California and five for the Southern District of California.
The 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, which previously passed the Senate on a voice vote and the House of Representatives by a 400-4 tally, was signed Monday, the White House said.
Members of Congress from California and other states pushed for federal judgeships, saying they were on the brink of a calamity caused by the increase in felony cases. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted in a statement that the felony load in the Southern District jumped from 1,200 cases in 1994 to 3,900 in 1999, with no increase in judges.
“There is no court in America that is more deserving of these additional judges than San Diego,” the senator said. “This is the most overworked, understaffed court in the United States.”
The new judgeship for the Central District was classified as temporary, meaning that one vacancy occurring more than 10 years from now will be left unfilled absent further action by Congress.
The new judgeships created by the bill—in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina as well as California—cannot be filled before July 15 of next year. The legislation also converts existing temporary judgeships in Texas, North Carolina, and Illinois into permanent ones.
The Central District currently has four vacancies. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge R. Gary Klausner is awaiting a vote of the full Senate on his nomination to fill one of them, while Los Angeles Superior Court Judge S. James Otero and Orange Superior Court Judge Cormac J. Carney are awaiting the scheduling of confirmation hearings.
The legislation also requires implementation of reforms at the FBI, with expanded authority given the department’s inspector general to investigate FBI agents. The bill makes clear that the Justice Department’s inspector general can investigate the FBI without first getting permission from the attorney general or his deputy.
Attorney General John Ashcroft already had given the inspector general that power, but lawmakers wanted to prevent a future attorney general from changing that policy.
The bill pushes the FBI to improve its computer systems and internal police force. It requires several reports to Congress, including one from the Justice Department about how it has used its electronic surveillance system, formerly known as “Project Carnivore.”
Implementation of some reform provisions—particularly those expanding the role of the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress—could lead to sticky controversies over the separation of powers.
The president warned in a statement that he would “construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authorities to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for the consideration of the Congress such measures as the President judges necessary and expedient.”
The bill also:
•Makes it unlawful for a person convicted of a violent felony to purchase, own, or possess body armor, and authorizes enhanced sentences when a defendant wears body armor during the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime. The provision was co-sponsored by Feinstein and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala, and is known as the James Guelff and Chris McCurley Body Armor Act.
Guelff was a San Francisco police officer, and was killed in 1994 in a gunfight with a heavily armed suspect wearing a Kevlar vest and bulletproof helmet. McCurley was an Alabama peace officer killed under similar circumstances.
•Increases penalties for tampering with federal witnesses or harming federal judges.
•Reauthorizes the J-1 visa waiver program, which allows the government to waive the requirement that foreigners go home for two years when they complete graduate medical study if the physicians agree to work in places considered to be medically underserved.
•Establishes a Violence Against Women office within the Justice Department, and
•Reauthorizes the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program that reimburses state and local governments for the costs associated with incarcerating illegal criminal aliens.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company