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 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.”•