The Honorable Bruce E. Kasold
MR. CHAIRMAN AND DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on a proposal – H.R. 4213 – to establish in statute a duty station for the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, consistent with other federal courts, as well as a requirement to reside within fifty miles of the District of Columbia.
In the haste of creating the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims – the youngest federal appellate court – the application of several policy issues written in statute and applicable to federal judges in general was overlooked with regard to the judges of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. A defined duty station is one example. The duty station for federal judges generally is prescribed by statute, see 28 U.S.C. § 456, but until your proposal and a mirror proposal in the Senate – S. 2045 – no similar legislation has applied to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. In the absence of legislation, the Court's Board of Judges has determined that the duty station for all Court personnel, including judges, is the Court's principal office. This mirrors your proposed bill.
With regard to a residence requirement, we note that congressional mandate with regard to such a requirement for an appellate court with national jurisdiction is mixed. Although the judges of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are required to reside within 50 miles of the District of Columbia, see 28 U.S.C. § 456, the judges of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces have no residency requirement.
To the extent the perceived need for a residency requirement arises from concerns over the efficient operation of the Court, we note that working from a remote area is becoming more practical. Our cases are now electronically filed and stored and are accessible anywhere a judge can locate a computer. Decisions are circulated for review electronically, and this is the preferred method to distribute cases for review even for those present and working at the Court (as opposed to working remotely). Conversations can and do take place by e-mail, phone, and video (although video is not widely available at the Court yet, but likely not far off). Indeed, recently, one of our judges was on travel and worked a case electronically with his iPad while his wife was driving the car. Moreover, the advent of e-filing and enhanced electronic communication capability, as well as recent changes in the administrative processing of appeals after they have been briefed – as discussed in my testimony before this Committee last month – have resulted in the Court's most productive years.
Should Congress proceed with a residency requirement for the Court, we suggest that it be tied to the Washington, D.C., greater metropolitan area, and not just the confines of the District of Columbia, to be consistent with the statutorily required location of the Court's principal office, which can be anywhere in the Washington, D.C., greater metropolitan area. See 38 U.S.C. § 7255.
As you proceed to consider the subject bill applying duty station and residency requirements for the federal appellate courts in general to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, it seems appropriate to now consider adding three additional equalizing policies that we have discussed in the past. Specifically, we discussed modifying the survivor benefits and insurance statutes to provide coverage generally available for the other federal judges, and amending our pay statute to provide federal appellate judicial pay, as we are the only federal appellate court not receiving such pay at this time.
There is a final equalizing bill that we urge remain under consideration. We are the only federal appellate court without its own courthouse, and, to our knowledge, the only federal court of record without its own courthouse. We understand that the Nation's current fiscal situation may not warrant building a courthouse at this time, but we share the veterans service organizations' support for such a courthouse and the concept that when the next federal courthouse is to be built, serious consideration should be given to making sure it is the Veterans' Courthouse.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on this matter.