WE CAN UNDERSTAND the frustrations that led federal Judge Joseph M. Young to his peculiar ruling that the speedy trial act of 1974 is unconstitutional. The act has placed a heavy burden on federal judges all over the country. It has disrupted court calendars in many districts, so that civil cases have been pushed aside almost indefinitelY. And it has meant that some persons charged with crimes escaped trial altogether because courts could not meet the act's requirements. But the response to all this should not be to reach out, as it seems to us Judge Young did, for a theory on which to strike down the act. Nor should it be to repeal the act, as some have suggested. What is needed is for Congress to provide the federal courts with enough judges to do the work it has said must be done.
The 1974 act, a legacy from former Sen. Sam J. Ervin, was designed to give reality to the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a "speedy" trial. It sets up the maximum periods that can elapse between the time a suspect is arrested, indicted, arraigned and tried. If the time limits are not met - except for some extraordinary reason - the case must be dismissed. Judge Young ruled that these conditions are a "legislative encroachment" on the judiciary and thus violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. Because Congress has adopted so many other procedural and substantive judicial rules during the last two centuries - which are presumably also unconstitional - we do not take Judge Young's challenge seriously.
But we do think the inaction of Congress in providing new judges is a serious default. No new federal district judgeships have been created since 1970. As long as the Republicans held the White House, the Democratic Congress ignored this situation, hoping that the election in 1976 would bring in a Democratic President who would appoint the new judges. The election provided a Democratic President, all right, but the courts are still waiting - more and more impatiently. The Senate approved a bill to creat 148 new judgeships last May. A House Judiciary subcommittee recommended cutting that number to 115 last June. But the full House committee has yet to complete action. There is no justification for that kind of delay. It serves to frustrate justice, not just individual judges.