On December 31, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts released his annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary —a State of the Union address, as it were, for the Judiciary Branch.
In the 16-page document, the Chief Justice — in a writing style much more conversational than he uses in his Court opinions — discussed judicial efforts to keep a tight budget and the need for judicial vacancies to be filled promptly, and summarized of the workload of the various courts in the Federal system. He even spent several pages on the history of the Revolutionary War-era frigate the U.S.S. Constitution, and concluded his report by comparing the Nation to the still seaworthy “Old Ironsides,” withstanding “daunting tests” and always emerging “strong” and “secure.”
Released as lawmakers were gathering at the Capitol to attempt to pass legislation to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the Chief Justice acknowledged the gravity of the “truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt” and said his branch was doing its part to keep costs down. He noted that the judiciary’s $6.97 billion annual budget was two-tenths of one percent of the total U.S. budget. He cautioned, however, that further attempts to cut into the judiciary budget would affect the ability of courts to handle their judicial obligations and “inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for the people the courts serve.”
Another threat to the judiciary’s ability to adequately perform its duties, the Chief Justice noted, was the numerous judicial positions that have remained unfilled over the past four years. While not taking a position on the debate over the cause of the backlog — President Barack Obama’s pace of making appointments or Senate Republicans’ reluctance to schedule confirmation hearings and votes — he wrote that, “at the close of 2012, twenty-seven of the existing judicial vacancies are designated as presenting judicial emergencies. I urge the Executive and Legislative Branches to act diligently in nominating and confirming highly qualified candidates to fill those vacancies.”
The Chief Justice also took the time to acknowledge the “resilience and fortitude” of the employees in the Judiciary Branch in the “most trying of times.”
When Hurricane Sandy shut down much of the the Eastern Seaboard, he wrote, judiciary “personnel reported to work, notwithstanding their own personal circumstances, and courts maintained communications with jurors, lawyers, and staff, while making arrangements to address urgent court matters.”
The Supreme Court ends its holiday break today with a private conference and resumes hearing oral arguments on Monday.