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January 1, 2005

CJ Rehnquist sets notable themes for 2005

Thanks to the folks at SCOTUSBlog, we can all start the new year reading Chief Justice William Rehnquist's 2004 year-end report on the federal judiciary.  As always, the report is an interesting and nuanced document.  Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog shares his views here, and Howard Bashman at How Appealing has already collected major news accounts of the report here.

The media focus, not surprisingly, is on CJ Rehnquist's discussion of "recently mounting criticism of judges for engaging in what is often referred to as 'judicial activism.'"  But also of note in the report are comments about "the judicial budget crisis facing the country," "the critical need for additional judgeships," and "the relationship between the Judicial Branch and the Legislative Branch."

As is my wont, I read the Chief Justice's comments through the lens of Blakely.  I suspect we may hear cries of "activism" if (when?) the Supreme Court declares aspects of the federal guidelines unconstitutional in Booker and Fanfan.  And the fallout from Blakely could exacerbate the judicial budget crisis and the need for additional judgeships.  Moreover, as detailed in CJ Rehnquist's 2003 year-end report on the federal judiciary, the development of federal sentencing law and policy has produced significant acrimony between Congress and the federal judiciary well before Blakely came along.

Indeed, as we all prepare for what could be a very eventful year in federal sentencing, CJ Rehnquist's comments in his 2003 report about judicial input on sentencing legislation merit close review.  If (when?) Congress responds to a decision in Booker and Fanfan, I hope it will heed these astute points from the Chief Justice:

It is Congress's job to legislate; but each branch of our government has a unique perspective, and taking into account these diverse perspectives improves the process....  Judges have a perspective on the administration of justice that is not necessarily available to members of Congress and the people they represent.  Judges have, again by Constitutional design, an institutional commitment to the independent administration of justice and are able to see the consequences of judicial reform proposals that legislative sponsors may not be in a position to see.  Consultation with the Judiciary will improve both the process and the product.

January 1, 2005 at 08:20 AM | Permalink

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