Summoning Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of the past and future, Chief Justice John Roberts devoted his annual report to the not-so-good fate of the federal judiciary if funding is not improved. “Let’s look,” Chief Justice Roberts writes in the report released at year’s end about “what has made our federal court system work in the past,” what they are doing in the present to preserve they system. Clearly, we are in in an era of fiscal constraint. The Chief Justice wants the public to understand what the future holds if the judiciary does not receive the funding it needs.”
As part of his duties as chief justice of the United States, Roberts heads the Judicial Conference. This is the principal policy-making body concerned with the administration of the federal courts. Each year an annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary is filed. This comes at year’s end and it’s a reflection on the state of the judiciary. In recent years, the subject of the report has been the issue of funding. This year Chief Justice Roberts calls the federal court system “the model for justice throughout the world.” He says the courts “owe their pre-eminence ” to statesmen “who have looked past the politics of the moment and have supported a strong, independent and impartial judiciary.”
Chief Justice Roberts, in an attempt to put things in perspective, introduced some interesting characters in his annual report. He summoned Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past and the guardian angel from Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” to help explain things to our political leaders in the nation’s capital and also to the American people.
The Chief Justice writes that even at a time of fiscal constraint, the independent judicial branch consumes only the “tiniest sliver” (two-tenths of 1 percent) of the federal government’s total outlays. He refers to the impact of the sequester, which led in part to fewer court clerks to process new civil cases, fewer probation and pretrial services officers, fewer public defenders and less funding for security guards at federal courthouses. And he outlines how the judiciary continues to look for ways to conserve funds, especially in space allocation. Chief Justice Roberts made this observation:
The year’s end brings predictable constants, including the revival of favorite phantoms — Scrooge’s ghosts and George Bailey’s guardian angel — who step out from the shadows for their annual appearance and then fade away. This year, however, let’s take a page from Dickens and Capra. Let’s look at what has made our federal court system work in the past, what we are doing in the present to preserve it in an era of fiscal constraint, and what the future holds if the judiciary does not receive the funding it needs.
In December, the Judicial Conference appealed to Congress to approve an appropriation of $7.04 billion for fiscal year 2014. Chief Justice Roberts says that the consequences of forgoing the funding in favor of a hard freeze at the sequester level would be “bleak.” It would lead to more cuts in court staff, greater delays in resolving civil and criminal cases and a potential threat to public safety. The Chief Justice made this interesting observation:
It takes no imagination to see that failing to meet the judiciary’s essential requirements undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government. Both “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” have happy endings. We are encouraged that the story of funding for the federal judiciary — though perhaps not as gripping a tale — will too.
Hopefully, the Obama Administration and the leadership in both the House and Senate will understand what the Chief Justice is telling them and respond in the right way. It would be a most serious mistake to ignore his plea.
Source: ABC News
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