Chief Justice of the United States Justice John Roberts used part of his address to the 7th Circuit to highlight the fiscal constraints judges and courts are facing today.
“We’re not like the typical government entity that can slow down this program or cut this particular activity,” Roberts said. “When we face budget cuts, it means furloughing or laying off people.”
Roberts gave the keynote speech Monday during the annual dinner of the 7th Circuit Bar Association and the Judicial Conference of the 7th Circuit. This year’s conference, held in Indianapolis, concludes Tuesday.
A native of the Hoosier state, the chief justice borrowed from a popular song when he told the crowd he was happy to be “back home again in Indiana.”
Roberts charmed the audience with history lessons and self-deprecating humor during his 17-minute speech. He also gave a report from the Supreme Court, saying the high court is going through cases “at a pretty steady clip.” The court has heard 77 cases this term, selected from more than 8,000 petitions. To date, it has issued 42 decisions.
At the close of his remarks, Roberts turned his attention to the “serious budget challenges” the judiciary is encountering.
He noted he was not interested in engaging in a debate about fiscal policy but he emphasized the judiciary is different from other government budget line items. For less than 1 percent of the federal budget, he added, the government gets not only the entire judicial branch, but a very efficient branch as well.
“At the same time,” Roberts said, “our budget is people.”
To this end, the judiciary is working to make sure the “people who control our budget” understand how much of the branch’s budget relies on individuals.
“We are also working very hard,” Roberts continued, “to come up with a way of accommodating whatever cuts we are facing in a way that limits the impact on the women and men who work in the judiciary and ensures that our commitment to providing equal justice under the law is not comprised in any way.”
The chief justice was introduced by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Before she recounted the warm way Roberts welcomed her to the Supreme Court, she praised former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar who supported her nomination.
Lugar was at the annual dinner.
Kagan pointed out that not many senators vote for the justices nominated by presidents of the opposite party. However, Lugar was one who did during his term in the U.S. Senate.
“To vote for (U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia) Sotomayor and to vote for Kagan … those are lonely votes. Those are very hard votes,” Kagan said. “They take a lot of integrity and a lot of courage, and the person who cast them, Sen. Lugar, has a lot of courage and a lot of integrity.”
Roberts said he echoed Kagan’s heartfelt testimonial to Lugar. He told the senator, “You did more than just vote for me, however. You introduced me, (in your capacity) as a host state senator, for which I am very, very grateful.”