Should We Be Concerned About Performance Standards For Judges?

There are those who argue that judicial independence and performance standards for judges are antithetical.

They aren’t.

Court systems that are slow and unresponsive eventually erode public trust and confidence. Accountability preserves judicial independence. But there may well be a point where the desire for “efficiency” undermines the quest for fairness. Procedural fairness requires time to give people a voice. On October 1, the Trump Administration’s new numerical and time-based quota system for immigration judges’ performance evaluations went into effect:

Earlier this year, the DOJ announced it would begin evaluating immigration judges’ performance based on how many cases they complete and how quickly they complete certain stages. To receive a “satisfactory” rating, immigration judges must now complete at least 700 cases per year, and meet three of six time “benchmarks,” among other requirements. There is no attempt to see for example did the litigants leave the immigration court feeling like they were heard, understanding what the judge did or why the order was issued.

Critics argue quotas undermine independent judicial decision-making and pressure immigration judges to prioritize speed over due process. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said this policy reflects a “new and dark era.”  A group of retired immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals argued, “Never before, in our experience, has EOIR so directly and strongly undermined the decisional independence of Immigration Judges.”

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