We already know that Texas is the epicenter of a growing judicial vacancy crisis. The state has nine judicial vacancies (the most of any state in the country), seven of which are official judicial emergencies. We also know that vacancies mean long delays for the people and businesses who need the courts to protect their rights and resolve disputes—delays that often mean justice is denied entirely. Now a new study sheds light on another real-world impact of judicial vacancies—the economic harms they cause not just for individual litigants, but for entire communities.
The new study from The Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm, focuses on the Eastern District of Texas, a court with two vacancies and the second highest caseload in the country. According to the non-partisan Judicial Conference of the United States, even if every vacancy were filled, the court still would need two additional judgeships to keep pace with rising caseloads that have more than doubled since 2009.
Noting that “an efficient and predictable judicial system is essential for economic growth and development,” the study projects economic growth in the Eastern District—which includes 43 East Texas counties—under three scenarios: (1) the court’s two vacancies remain empty; (2) the vacancies are filled but no new judgeships are added; and (3) the vacancies are filled and two new judgeships are added.
The results are staggering. According to the report, compared to the current baseline, filling the two current vacancies would create 78,188 jobs and an $11.7 billion increase in “real gross product”—the output of goods and services in the region—by 2030. If the vacancies are filled and two judgeships are added, 148,398 jobs would be created and real gross product would shoot up by $22.1 billion. The study also looked at personal income, worker earnings, and retail sales, and found that fully-staffed courts would lead to dramatic gains in each category. In sum, the report concludes, “investing in the judicial infrastructure can improve quality of life as well as future prosperity. By reducing uncertainties and time required to resolve business disputes, performance of the economy can be enhanced.” Just as a lack of quality roads and utilities slows down commerce and keeps businesses from growing, the report finds that a lack of judges to handle legal disputes holds back economic growth and the creation of new jobs.
The report lays out some big numbers, but the fundamental point—that a reliable and efficient judiciary is necessary for sustained economic prosperity—shouldn’t be surprising. Indeed we’ve heard this before in Texas’s Eastern District. When Judge Leonard Davis announced his retirement in 2014, the Tyler, Texas Area Chamber of Commerce and Tyler Economic Development Council wrote a joint letter to Senators Cornyn and Cruz urging “swift appointment of [Judge Davis’s replacement] so as to assure the unbroken federal judicial presence in Tyler” and avoid the “negative economic implications” of a vacancy. Unfortunately, Cornyn and Cruz didn’t listen, and they still haven’t recommended a replacement for Judge Davis.
Now there’s empirical data to back up what the business community has said all along. The only question is whether it’s enough for Cornyn and Cruz to do something about it.