Federal Judges

Why Did Senior Judge John McBryde of N.D. Texas Just Lose His Criminal Case Docket?

On December 26, 2019, Chief District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn signed an order temporarily suspending the assignment of criminal cases to Judge McBryde’s court.

Has Judge McBryde Retired?

Not Completely | He is still being assigned cases

JAN 22, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT; JAN 26, 2021

Yes and no. Judge John H. McBryde has opted for “retirement in senior status.”

Judge McBryde was nominated for the federal bench in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The Senate confirmed him in August 1990. He semi-retired and began senior status on October 9, 2018. He has continued to preside of criminal and civil cases, maintained the same courtroom, maintained the same chambers, and has substantially the same staff.

“Senior status” is a form of retirement for United States federal judges. To qualify, a judge must be at least 65 years of age, and the sum of the judge’s age and years of service in federal courts must be at least 80 years. The judge must meet several requirements including presiding over a minimum caseload that equals about one-quarter of a normal docket. While in senior status, a judge continues to receive the salary of a district court judge. In this special retirement status, the judge may work full-time or opt for a much lower caseload.

No Criminal Cases Assigned from January 1, 2020 to February 29, 2020

On December 26, 2019, Chief District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn signed an order temporarily suspending the assignment of criminal cases to Judge McBryde’s court. From January 1, 2020, until February 29, 2020, no new criminal cases will be assigned to Judge McBryde.

However, the order does not reassign the judge’s current criminal docket.

The order does not provide any explanation as to why Judge McBryde will not be assigned criminal cases during this time.

Why would a judge take “senior status”?

The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to “from time to time ordain and establish” courts “inferior” to the United States Supreme Court. U.S. CONST. art. III, § 1. This power is how Congress creates district courts and circuit appellate courts.

A federal district court judge is what is commonly referred to as an Article Three Judge. This is a reference to Article III of the United States Constitution. Although the Constitution does not use the term “life tenure” it does say,

“Judges . . . shall hold . . . their Offices during good Behaviour.”

U.S. CONST. art. III, § 1. Most read this clause to mean that it grants life tenure to judges, subject only to impeachment and removal for misbehavior.

The law creating senior judges allows those judges to “retain the office,” and the law also authorizes the President to immediately nominate a “successor.”

As a result, if a judge’s views align with the current presidential administration, then the judge may take senior status (if eligible) to make way for a new appointment.

The result: two ideologically similar judges, but only one judicial seat created by Congress.

There is some debate as to whether Congress’s creation of “Senior Status” judges goes beyond the constitutional authority of Article III. Section 371 of United States Code Chapter 28, allows for judges to continue to work into semi-retirement.

Notwithstanding scholarly disagreement, the federal judiciary operates under this statutory regime, and Judge John McBryde has opted to continue to take cases.

However, his caseload has been reduced, at least temporarily.

Newest Judge in Fort Worth Division

On January 17, 2019, President Trump nominated Mark J. Pittman to fill the seat vacated by John H. McBryde. In Fort Worth, Texas, on August 8, 2019, Mark T. Pittman was sworn in by the Honorable David L. Evans, Presiding Judge, Eighth Texas Administrative Judicial Region, to serve as United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas. Later in August 2019, the Northern District reassigned a long list of cases to the new federal judge, the Honorable Mark Pittman.

However, all of the criminal cases reassigned to Judge Pittman were those previously assigned to Judge Sam R. Cummings.

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Why Did Senior Judge John McBryde of N.D. Texas Just Lose His Criminal Case Docket?
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