The Federal Judicial Center: All You Need to Know

The Federal Judicial Center is a federal agency in the US. It is responsible for research and education for the US federal courts, including conducting continuing education and training for federal judges, court clerks, and other court staff. The center also develops recommendations concerning operation and study of federal courts and conducts research about court operations, history, and federal judicial procedures.

The Center Structure

The Federal Judicial Center has different divisions that are responsible for different functions. There is an Education Division, which provides educational programs, services, and resources for judges and other court personnel.  The center also has a Research Division, which accepts research requests from various parties within the federal judicial system and then executes them. These might include research about:

  • Federal judicial processes
  • Court management
  • Sentencing precedents

The Federal Judicial History Office is another division of the Federal Judicial Center. It is tasked with developing programs pertaining to the history of the judicial branch and assisting courts in the development and maintenance of their own judicial history programs. It collects and produces resources about the history of Federal courts, such as:

  • Judicial biographies
  • Caseload data
  • Teaching materials
  • Structure and jurisdiction of Federal courts

The last division is the Inter-judicial Affairs Office, which provides information about Federal courts to foreign judicial systems and compiles information about foreign judicial systems.

Federal Judicial Center History

The Federal Judicial Center originated from the need for relevant research. From the 1950s to the early 1960s, the Judicial Conference and the Administrative Office commissioned research to examine problems of judicial administration and organized education programs for judges. These efforts were helpful in helping to manage complicated caseloads, which were also growing in number. The efforts proved to be very useful, these programs had no permanent staff or funding at the time. It was clear that an established, organized program of judicial research and education was needed on a more reliable basis. It was then that the Federal Judicial Center was established by Congress in 1967. This was done due to a recommendation of the Judicial Conference of the United States, led at the time by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren, along with other members of the judiciary, believed that providing regular programs of research and education could greatly improve the operations and efficiency of Federal courts.  This move was meant to also help relieve the backlog of cases in the lower courts.

In 1988, Congress added a provision to the Center's statute authorizing it to conduct, coordinate, and encourage programs relating to the history of the judicial branch of the U.S. government. Today, the Federal Judicial History Office engages in history projects and accepts inquiries from court staff, students, and the general public concerning the history of the judicial branch. The History Office also looks for collaborations with relevant organizations, such as the American Society for Legal History, the Society for History in the Federal Government, the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the American Political Science Association.

Federal Judicial Center Board and Center Governance

Like many public entities, The Federal Judicial Center is governed by a board of officials. The board includes the Chief Justice of the United States, as well as the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The board also has seven judges, and they are elected by the Judicial Conference.  The Board appoints the Center’s Director and Deputy Director.  The Center’s other staff is appointed by the Director.  The Director’s Office is tasked with the management of the Center, and with optimizing its relations with other organizations.  The Center’s Systems Innovation & Development Office is in charge of providing technical support for education and research program.  The Communications Policy and Design division creates and produces all print and electronic publications used by the Center, runs the Federal Judicial Television Network, and hosts a specialized library collection of materials on judicial administration, together with the Information Services Office

Federal Courts and The Federal Judicial Center

The Federal Judicial Center is the education and research agency for the federal courts. This means that the Center is a reliable resource for Federal courts, whether they are seeking to research certain information pertaining to the cases it hears, or to seek education programs for its staff, so they may be better equipped to meet the specific challenges that arise.

The Center has detailed training documents that are accessible through its website. Court employees do not need to provide login and authentication to access many of the training documents. Training for judges is especially key, as many newly appointed judges have not spent any time on the bench. Judge education sessions are most often delivered in person, to better facilitate discussion. Every year the Center delivers a series of national or regional workshops for district, bankruptcy, and magistrate judges, respectively. National programs for appellate judges occur every three years. These training series cover a broad range of legal topics and skills, including:

  • New legal developments and case management techniques
  • Ethics updates
  • Judicial history
  • Legal developments related to science and technology

The Center also delivers annual programs for chief district judges that focus on management and leadership. There are also smaller seminars offered, and topics include intellectual property, employment law, environmental law, and a mediation training program.

The Center also serves Federal courts with publications, television broadcasts, video and audio recordings, and web-based materials. It also publishes manuals and other materials in hard copy.

Federal Prisons and the Federal Judicial Center

The Federal Judicial Center’s work can have an impact on federal prisons. Because it produces research and education that can influence sentencing, the Center has an indirect impact on prison populations. It also works with Federal prisons to facilitate informational visits for new court judges and other staff as part of their education. Finally, the Center’s work can contribute to the development and maintenance of Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration programs, managed by the US Sentencing Commission.

The Federal Judicial Center Foundation

The Federal Judicial Center efforts are supported by the Federal Judicial Center Foundation. This is a private, non-profit corporation.  Its mission is to raise funds and receive gifts to support the work of the Center. Funds raised by the foundation help the Center do more than it would with Federal funding alone. The Foundation was created by Congress in 1988. All donations to the Foundation are treated for tax purposes as gifts to the United States government. Donations come from charitable institutions, judges, lawyers, and other entities.

International Judicial Relations

The Federal Judicial Center helps to improve international judicial relations by providing information to help improve the administration of justice in foreign countries. The Center further supports this effort by delivering briefings and short programs for visiting foreign judges and foreign court officials. It serves as a resource for U.S. judges working with judges from other countries, supports judicial projects abroad, and makes available informational materials about the federal judicial system to international entities. Finally, the Center gathers information from outside the country that may inform the administration of justice in the United States.

In summary, it is evident that the Federal Judicial Center is a key agency that supports the US Federal justice system. While it is a smaller agency, employing roughly 130 people, it delivers very important research and education resources that are actively sought and utilized by Federal courts. The Center also has an impact on Federal prisons and the relationship with foreign courts and judges. Due to the challenges the Federal courts regularly face, such as high volumes of cases that result in long waiting periods, they do not have the time to develop training programs and conduct research. By supporting the courts with these functions, and by being available to all Federal jurisdictions, the Center is a powerful player in the US justice system.