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December 31, 2012

Chief Justice John Roberts defends costs of federal judiciary in year-end report

Proof I am a true law geek comes from the peculiar joy I get around this time each year from blogging about the traditional "Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary" authored the Chief Justice of the United States.  This Wall Street Journal piece has a summary of this year's report, which is available at this link and starts with a great tale about the USS Constitution and the War of 1812.  Here is an overview based in the WSJ summary:

Chief Justice John Roberts, acknowledging the "fiscal cliff," avoided again lobbying for a judicial pay raise in his annual report on the U.S. court system but sought to defend the courts against future cutbacks....

This year, the chief justice explicitly acknowledged "the much publicized 'fiscal cliff'" consuming the executive and legislative branches, as well as "the longer term problem of a truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt." Rather than seek a bigger slice of the pie, the chief justice, who serves as administrative head of the federal judiciary in addition to presiding over the Supreme Court, argued that the judicial system already offers Americans good value and doesn't deserve to be cut.

This year's report also includes the usual accounting of caseloads in the federal courts, including these notable criminal justice caseload statistics:

Filings in the regional courts of appeals rose four percent to 57,501. Growth occurred in all types of appeals except civil appeals, which decreased one percent. Criminal appeals climbed 12 percent.

Filings for criminal defendants (including those transferred from other districts), which had reached an all-time high in 2011, dropped nine percent this year to 94,121. Excluding transfers, reductions occurred in the number of defendants charged with nearly every major offense, including drug crimes. Filings for defendants charged with immigration violations decreased 10 percent. The southwestern border districts once again accounted for 74 percent of the nation’s total immigration defendant filings.

Growth was reported for defendants accused of firearms offenses.  Filings for defendants prosecuted for regulatory offenses also increased.

December 31, 2012 at 06:47 PM | Permalink


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Whatever one may think of the co-equal Third Branch (the courts, the FJC, the AO, the Sentencing Commission), it does amaze that it functions with only 2/10 of one percent of our federal budget. How does that compare with the missing cash in Iraq, the jailing of personal use druggies or similar wasteful expenditures on unneeded whatevers pushed by both sides of the aisle?

Posted by: alan chaset | Jan 1, 2013 8:50:03 AM

alan --

I doubt the feds spend much if anything on the imprisonment of, as you say, "personal use druggies." When I was in the USAO, the typical penalty for personal use pot -- e.g., smoking a joint at a Parkway overlook -- was, I think, a $50 or $100 fine, and that's when the case was prosecuted at all. Has that changed? If it has, it won't be by much.

More broadly, and as you point out, the whole federal justice budget is miniscule, and the notion that we can save anything close what we need to by cutting back there is a fiction. We have to find the money where the money is, to wit, the transfer payments for Medicare and Medicaid, and now the ACA.

This is not to mention, of course, that the easy way to avoid ANY federal expenditures on pot prosecutions is for people to quit doing pot. It's just not that hard not to do pot, I assure you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 1, 2013 9:49:15 AM

Does anyone else find the Chief's commentary on political issues to be highly inappropriate? I know he's making a funding request and needs to acknowledge budgetary realities when so doing. But by using overtly political terms like "fiscal cliff," it seems that the Chief has waded into a political issue, something he shouldn't be doing (even as the nominal head of the judicial branch).

Posted by: Anon | Jan 1, 2013 11:10:27 AM

Anon --

Politicians vary widely about what should be done about the "fiscal cliff," true, but the fact that there is such a cliff is a fact of tax and appropriations statutes and is, as well, acknowledged by practically everyone, no matter what his political views. The Chief Justice's use of that now-common term is, therefore, not "political" in any sense that makes it objectionable.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 1, 2013 11:30:43 AM

2/10 of one percent does sound pretty small, but it in effect a pretty small sized affair. Even a much more drawn back military would be much more expensive to run, plus any number of other things. The courts can really been seen as but one aspect of a "justice system" that is much bigger.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 1, 2013 12:14:21 PM

To be fair, he puts the term "fiscal cliff" in quotes (like that).

It is nice that he honored judge who died of Lou Gehrig's disease and it is time for the President and Senate to reach some sort of agreement to do something about delays in nominations. I'm sure people here can debate the partisan "blame" here, but the delays did increase significantly in recent years. The filibuster proposals could help here. The ideal solution would have been to agree to something that kicks in at some future date or in some tiered fashion.

It is also nice that these reports tend to be brief affairs. More of a chance someone will actually read the things.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 1, 2013 12:27:22 PM

The Court is a waking nightmare of petty tyranny from which the nation will never be free.

The 9/11 terrorists did $trillions in damage to us with a budget of $500,000. The damage done by this court is of several orders of magnitude greater than the 9/11 terrorists. Millions viable babies, killed. $trillions in lost economic opportunities thanks to these lawyers. The destruction of the family, which is the biggest threat to the viability of our civilization. All so that government can generate jobs for itself.

All lawyers should be excluded from any seat. These know it all lawyers know nothing about nothing, yet feel they have the ability to settle highly technical matters. They have protected the criminal and generated $billions in appellate costs. They are fully responsible for our economic decline.

The Court should have term limits, such as 20 years.

It needs to move to a small town in the Midwest, to change their cultural environment.

We are funding their insurrection against the constitution. We are funding the internal traitors that will destroy our civilization.

So, no, there should be no increase in budget. Horrible people no matter what political side they take.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 1, 2013 5:57:58 PM

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