A House committee has approved a bill that would set limits on the number of courtrooms in new federal courthouses and freeze the amount of total real estate space the General Services Administration controls.
The measure, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee cleared on July 11 by a voice vote, has strong support on the panel. Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and the committee’s top Democrat, Nick Rahall (W.Va.), have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill may go to the House floor before the August recess, a GOP aide says. However, no comparable bill has been introduced in the Senate.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who chairs the subcommittee that oversees federal buildings, said the measure’s purpose is “to save taxpayers money.”
Some of those savings would come from a provision requiring federal judges to share courtrooms, thus trimming the size of new courthouse projects. The common practice has been for each judge to have his or her own courtroom.
The current federal courts' design guide says courtroom sharing should be considered in planning courthouse projects but doesn’t require it.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), the public-buildings subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said, “This bill means that district-court judges and senior judges and bankruptcy judges and magistrate judges alike will have to share courtrooms.”
Norton said federal court officials have “resisted fiercely” earlier calls by the committee to share courtrooms, though she noted that “many courtrooms are not used for much of the time.”
The committee bill requires there to be no more than two courtrooms for every three active federal district judges, though it also says there should be at least nine total courtrooms per courthouse for all active district judges there.
For courthouses with three or more federal bankruptcy judges, the mandate would be one courtroom for every two such judges.