Chief justice stresses fiscal constraints

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts raised the specter of “Scrooge’s ghosts” in his year-end report on the state of the nation’s judiciary, requesting additional funding for the nation’s cash-strapped courts.

“I would like to choose a fresher topic, but duty calls,” said Roberts, who also discussed the judiciary’s fiscal state in last year’s report. “The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts.”

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Roberts focused his report on an appeal for Congress to approve the $7.04 billion appropriation request made by the Judicial Conference, a collection of judges responsible for directing the administration of the courts.

In requesting additional funds, Roberts argued that the courts began working to contain costs in 2004, “long before the talk of fiscal cliffs and sequestration came into vogue.” He also noted that the federal court system consumes only two-tenths of a percent of the federal budget.

Roberts warned of a “bleak” future for the judiciary if the $350 million spending cut imposed during sequestration were to remain in place. Delays in civil and criminal cases, he warned, would cause commercial uncertainty and endanger the public safety. The courts would also have to lay off more than 1,000 staff and cut the compensation rates for public defenders.

Roberts tried to leaven his report with references to classic Christmas stories.

“ 'Both A Christmas Carol' and 'It’s a Wonderful Life' have happy endings,” the chief justice said. “We are encouraged that the story of funding for the Federal Judiciary — though perhaps not as gripping a tale — will too.”

The report concluded with a summary of the number of cases before the courts in 2013. Notably, bankruptcy court filings fell by 12 percent, while criminal prosecutions fell 3 percent, driven by a fall in drug prosecutions. Sex offense prosecutions, however, rose 10 percent.

The full report may be read here.