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Chief Justice Roberts says cuts to judiciary budget becoming too deep

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Describing the immediate impact changes in judicial budgets have on court staff, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts used part of his address to the 7th Circuit Bar 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-john-mug Roberts

Roberts gave the keynote speech May 6 during the annual dinner of the 7th Circuit Bar Association and Judicial Conference of the 7th Circuit. This year’s conference was held in Indianapolis.

With ties to 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 of the United States, 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 more than 40 decisions.

At the close of his remarks, Roberts turned his attention to the “serious budget challenges” the judiciary is encountering.

During fiscal year 2012, the judiciary – which includes federal courts and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts – received a total appropriation of $6.97 billion, two-tenths of 1 percent of the total U.S. budget of $3.7 trillion, according to the 2012 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.

Roberts told the audience 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 one 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.

The 2012 year-end report states that nearly 85 percent of the personnel budget was for support staff including clerks, secretaries and administrative personnel. These workers are slated to receive a cost of living raise in 2013, their first in three years.

“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 compromised in any way.”

The 2012 year-end report highlighted the judiciary’s efforts to contain costs by streamlining business practices and improving efficiency.

Roberts was introduced by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Before she recounted the warm way Roberts welcomed her to the court, she praised former Indiana Sen. 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 former 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.”•

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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