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Chief Justice Roberts Plays Oliver Twist for Congress

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a slow week for Supreme Court news last week, Chief Justice John Roberts (CJJR) released his annual report, a task he took pains to discuss his disdain for in long-form. If you're having issues with insomnia, it's a great cure. Otherwise, here are the highlights of CJJR's performance as Oliver Twist.

The first few pages of the report heap lavish praise upon the historical importance of Congress. The Constitution begot merely one court, while the rest were begotten, through various legislative acts of grace, over the following two centuries. Like any good fundraiser, CJJR starts by heaping praise upon his benefactor and their bountiful deeds, before describe the dire straits of present and the courts' modest requests.

Seriously. Sequestration has lowered our nation's Chief Justice's to the same mortal plane I once occupied, six years ago, when I worked for $7 an hour as a telephone fundraiser for my dear alma mater.

The Bloodletting

The report continues by reminding Congress that the courts began budget-slashing first, way back in 2004, long before our nation's lawmakers tried to steer us off a fiscal cliff. The courts did things like controlling rent payments and construction, cutting staff, and "leveraging available manpower through cost-effective deployments of information technology." (They used email. Well, most of 'em did, anyway.)

And then sequestration hit on March 1, 2013, slashing the budget by 5 percent. CJJR argued it hurt more for the judiciary because their budget was already lean and mean, and because the courts' duties are "constitutionally and statutorily required." (Take that, bloated executive-administrative branch!)

The cost, in manpower, was great. The courts have their lowest level of staff since 1997. Fourteen percent of court staff (3,100 jobs) and eleven percent of federal defender staff were cut in FY 2013, as were their hourly rates. Many took IOUs in lieu of pay. Adopting email alone won't make up for the great purge of 2013.

The Reparations

Despite being a co-equal third branch of the government, the courts consume only two-tenths of a percent of the entire federal budget. And though some funding was restored in the deal that ended the shutdown, Congress is operating on a near-term deadline to pass appropriations for 2014.

How much is enough for our dear courts? The current request, which has been trimmed by $180 million from the Judicial Conference request (CJJR quipped, "we were optimistic"), is $7.04 billion.

The Senate has already approved $120 million more than the now-reduced figure, while the House is shortchanging the court by $13 million in the bill approved by its Appropriations Committee.

Lets hope, for Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Twist's sake, that the House makes up the difference.

The Report's Remainders

Now we hit the good stuff! Insomniacs rejoice, as the final three pages are regurgitation of case levels and trends. Bankruptcies are down by 12 percent. Criminal prosecutions are down 3 percent, in large part because we ran out of cells for drug offenders. Prosecuting rapists, however, is apparently still important, with a 10 percent bump in sex offense cases.

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