Due to a shortage of judges, Arizona’s chief federal judge has declared a judicial emergency for the entire District of Arizona, which would allow courts to delay criminal trials for up to six months.

Arizona’s federal courts were already overburdened by the combination of a 65% increase in criminal cases over the last two years and two unfilled judicial vacancies before Judge John M. Roll was killed in the Jan. 8 attack that also severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The emergency declaration could delay the trial of Jared Lee Loughner, who entered a not-guilty plea in a Phoenix federal courtroom Monday on charges related to the shooting of Giffords and two of her staffers.

A judicial emergency is a rarely used tool to suspend the demands of the Speedy Trial Act—which requires quick trials in criminal cases—for 30 days. It was last used in the Southern District of New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On Tuesday, the Judicial Council for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Arizona, took the even rarer step of extending Judge Silver’s emergency declaration for a year, until February 2012.

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