Category Archives: federal judiciary

U.S. Judiciary: Chief Justice John Roberts Issues 2012 Year-End Report

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, issued a 2012 year-end report on the judiciary.

The Chief Justice essentially presents the judiciary as a branch that is acting responsibly with its budget but cannot reduce its budget further without affecting the quality of judicial services.

Considering the size of the judiciary budget (fiscal year 2012–$6.97 billion appropriations request out of a total U.S. budget of $3.7 trillion), it appears that the branch is taking appropriate steps. The Chief Justice listed three main areas that the judiciary is focusing on: rent, personnel, and information technology. In the Chief Justice’s discussion, there is a discussion of the exploration of sharing administrative services within a judicial district. Because some judicial districts span over a large georgraphical area, I would be interested in receiving a bit more detail as to how this idea will be placed into practice.

[Note 1: Judicial pay is the same as for 2010. See Executive Order ____, schedule 7 (http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2012/2013PAY_Attach.pdf).]

In the appendix to the report, the Chief Justice provides and explanation of the workload of the judiciary. I will focus on the Supreme Court’s workload.

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Filings

8521

8857

8241

7738

8159

7857

7713

In forma pauperis

6846

7132

6627

6142

6576

6299

6160

Paid docket

1671

1723

1614

1596

1583

1558

1553

Cases:

argued

87

78

75

87

82

86

79

disposed

82

74

72

83

77

83

73

signed opinions

69

67

67

74

73

75

83

14th Amendment and Debt Ceiling: Amendment’s Applicability to the Current Debt Situation Unclear; Congress Has the Power to Enforce the Provisions of the 14th Amendment

The once routine lifting of the debt ceiling has become a quite a battle of wills. Considering that the United States will continue to issue debt (for federal pensions and Social Security and other purposes), I am unsure whether this is a good place to make a high-stakes stand.

Now, to break the impasse, some commentators are suggesting that the 14th Amendment , section 4 can be used by the President to exceed the debt ceiling.As frustrating and upsetting as the debate has been, the political branches (especially Congress) will finally have to set down and do the work they were elected to do, keeping in mind the real power of a Presidential veto.

Section 4.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

It’s compelling, but I don’t think it applies to the current debt debacle. It has more applicability to the Civil War era when it was written. In addition, the Congress has the right to enforce the provsions of the 14th Amendment, section 5.

Section 5.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Also, Congress has the power of the purse, Article I, section 8, and allowing the President to set the debt limit on his own may create a separation-of-powers issue.

U.S. Judiciary: Chief Justice John Roberts Issues 2010 Year-End Report

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, issued a 2010 year-end report on the judiciary.

The report is relatively straightforward, laying out the goals of the judicial branch and its position on handling the financial constraints of the government and seeking additional judges for busy judicial districts.

The Chief Justice mentioned that while the U.S. judicial system is a model for the world, there is no place for complacency and thus courts must adapt to change.

The judiciary has responded to the call for change by issuing its Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary, which identifies seven issues critical to the future operation of the federal courts. [The "Strategic  Plan" is located at www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/FederalCourts/Publications/StrategicPlan2010.pdf.]

The Chief Justice noted that there are two obstacles to the goals the judiciary seeks–the economic downturn and the lack of judges in busy judicial districts.  The Chief Justice explains that the judiciary is doing its part to make the best use of the monies given to the judicial branch. The Chief Justice asks the Executive and Legislative branches of government to resolve the problem of judicial vacancies.

[Note 2: Judicial pay is the same as for 2010. See Executive Order 13561 (http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2010/2011PAY_Attach1.pdf).]

In the appendix to the report, the Chief Justice provides and explanation of the workload of the judiciary. I will focus on the Supreme Courts workload.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Filings 8521 8857 8241 7738 8159
In forma pauperis 6846 7132 6627 6142 6576
Paid docket 1671 1723 1614 1596 1583
Cases:
argued 87 78 75 87 82
disposed 82 74 72 83 77
signed opinions 69 67 67 74 73

President Barack Obama: His Tax-Cut “Framework” is Another Example of His Facially Neutral, Cruel, and Merciless Decisionmaking

President Barack Obama over his term has shown an affinity to please those with power and pummel those without it. The recent decision to make a deal to extend the soon-former Bush tax cuts is only the latest example of this characteristic. His approach of making the decision for the framework is not satisfactory for a President. In addition, the President is making facially neutral, cruel, and merciless decisions on the income classes of the nonwealthy, but seeks to divorce himself from owning his savage knockout blows.

I read the President’s statement (his press conference was nearly intolerable to watch). It seems that the President would like the regular citizen to think that he is a judge: He heard the arguments from representatives of both political parties, thought about them, and made a decision to favor one over the other in an attempt to spare the public from an extended debate.

I find this method of decisionmaking to be completely unacceptable. First, a President of the United States, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive of the United States, should have had his own proposals rather than just sit down passively to wait for others to bring policy options to him. Second, his decision-making style is far more appropriate in the the judicial branch than the executive.

Usually, Presidents make their own tax policy because they will be personally and institutionally identified with it. What the current President did is adopt his predecessor’s (George Bush) tax policy in some misguided thought that any problems would lay at Bush’s feet. As I have stated previously, once the President signs the extension bill, the tax act–with its many warts–will belong to President Obama alone; no more will he be able to blame Bush (Boehner or McConnell) for the soon-to-be-coming failures.

Moreover, the President has decided to implement the real reason for the deficit commission–destroying Social Security. The tax cuts are not paid for it is said, but I argue that the surplus funds of Social Security (paid for through FICA by the wage-earners of the United States) will be used to pay for the wealthy class’s tax cuts. The general fund being insolvent means that the workers’ monies will not be returned.

The President’s decision to have a FICA (a.k.a. payroll) tax cut sounds innocent enough until one realizes that taking contributions from Social Security for the current tax cuts will harm the Social Security system’s financial position over the long run. His decision also provides ample political cover for his GOP successor to accelerate the damage to Social Security.

In addition, the President–without any prodding and with a contented, solemn visage–decided to use his figurative cudgel to strike executive-branch employees with a two-year pay freeze proposal. The costs of living indifferently increase, so the employees could suffer a pay cut for years to come. The economic costs endured by those employees will not be recoverable in the future; it is likely the pay freeze could be made permanent.

Who could have ever imagined that a Democratic President would govern as a Republican. The recent turn of events is heartrending and devastating to witness.

Fed. Govt.: President Barack Obama Issues 2010 Federal Employees’ Pay Schedule; Federal Judges Receive COLA

On December 23, 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13525, which provides the pay schedule for federal employees for 2010. The recent appropriations bill provided for cost of living adjustments for several classes of federal employees.

One group is the one for federal judiciary (see schedule 7 of Executive Order 13525) (amounts in chart are in dollars).

2010 fed judicial pay chart

Also in Executive Order 13525 (schedule 6), Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S Senate will receive $174,000 in 2010, no change from 2009.

Supreme Court: Justice Clarence Thomas Objects to Criticism of Court; Citizenry Right to Hold Government to Scrutiny

Justice Clarence Thomas while speaking at the Stetson University law school in Florida, provided a defense of the Supreme Court’s majority decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (08-205). Thomas asserted that corporations have First Amendment rights to engage in political speech. I maintain that legal fictions like corporations or any form of business organization do not have innate rights under the First Amendment like human beings do.

Thomas reasoned that corporations have first amendment rights to political speech because human beings have the right to association. This right to association, he explains, allows groups of people to collectively assert their speech rights. Thus, the people in so assembling can create a partnership or a corporation to assert their political views.

I disagree with Thomas’ reasoning because a business organizations (partnerships, c corporations, LLCs, LLPs, and so on) are created under state law. Partnerships are creatures of contract, one that can be dissolved rather easily. In addition, people have to pay fees to create a business organization. Outside of strictly commercial activity (buying and selling of goods and services), I do not see why these business organizations would be seen as having First Amendment rights.

First Amendment rights have to be limited to those who are capable of exercising them autonomously–a requirement that an business organizational form will never satisfy (rightly so).

Post Script:

DC business organizations

Clarence Thomas at the University of Florida

WUSF audio

Post at the Above the Law blog

U.S. Judiciary: Chief Justice John Roberts Issues 2009 Year-End Report

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, issued a 2009 year-end report on the judiciary.

For this year-end report, the Chief Justice presents the facts alone, with his comments being like a cover letter memorandum. In summary, the chief justice reports,

The courts are operating soundly, and the nation’s dedicated federal judges are conscientiously discharging their duties. I am privileged and honored to be in a position to thank the judges and court staff throughout the land for their devoted service to the cause of justice.

Given the status of economy, and, in particular, the legal industry, the Chief Justice refrains from the story of judicial pay (which in my view, the total compensation (value of pay plus benefits) is exceptionally good).

In the appendix to the report, the Chief Justice provides an explanation of the workload of the judiciary. I will focus on the Supreme Court’s workload.

2005 2006 2007 2008
Filings 8521 8857 8241 7738
In forma pauperis 6846 7132 6627 6142
Paid docket 1671 1723 1614 1596
Cases:
argued 87 78 75 87
disposed 82 74 72 83
signed opinions 69 67 67 74

U.S. Judiciary: House and Senate Appropriations Committees Issue Reports–House Encourages Increased Outreach to Minority Law Students for Clerkships; Senate Bill Provides COLA

The Congress has issued reports on Appropriations legislation. I will focus on a portion of the bills that apply to the judicial branch. For full details on the reports for the other bills, see the Library of Congress.

The House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee of the Appropriations committee issued a report for the judiciary, as well as other government agencies within its jurisdiction and the District of Columbia. For the judiciary, the subcommittee stated that the goal of its bill “is to provide sufficient resources for the Federal Courts to perform their functions of dispensing equal justice under law in a fair, careful, and efficient manner.” Among several other items, the subcommittee encourages the judicial branch to examine ways to increase outreach to minority law students to increase their participation in law clerk jobs.

The Senate Financial Services and General Government subcommittee of the Appropriations committee also issued a report which included the judicial branch. The subcommittee stated that its funding levels “support the Federal judiciary’s role of providing equal justice under the law and include sufficient funds to support this critical mission.” Unlike the House Bill, the Senate Bill provides for a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, for the Supreme Court Justices and the judges in the judicial branch.

The language of the Senate’s COLA provision is:  “Sec. 307. Pursuant to section 140 of Public Law 97-92, and from funds appropriated in this Act, Justices and judges of the United States are authorized during fiscal year 2010, to receive a salary adjustment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. 461.”

Presumably, the differences in bill language will be resolved in the conference committee.

For more information

Public Law 97-92, sec. 140. (CRS Report)

H. 3170

House Report 111-202

S. 1432

Senate Report 111-43

Supreme Court: Justices Breyer and Thomas Testify for the Supreme Court’s Appropriation Funding

Annually, the Supreme Court, along with other federal agencies that receive appropriations, testifies for its funding before Congress.

The hearing has served as a way to discuss administrative issues of concern between the two branches of government, with a caveat that the Congress, while exercising the power of the purse, is the stronger of the two.

It is good for this to happen.  While the judicial branch is independent, the judicial branch must always be institutionally reminded that the branch’s independence does not imply royalty.  Rather, the judiciary serves the citizens through the fair application of laws in the country.

Supreme Court Law Clerks

The hearing before the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (Rep. Jose Serrano is the chairman of the subcommittee) included a discussion of the people selected to be law clerks for individual Supreme Court Justices.

The demographic composition of employees who are law clerks is a long-standing issue for Chairman Serrano.  The topic is particularly poignant as the Court renders decisions using idealized racial comity as a rationale for its decisions on affirmative action cases.  Meanwhile, the Court has difficulty answering a question about the composition of their law clerks.  Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, who testified for the Supreme Court at the hearing, stated that they are aware of the issue (an answer similar to that made in previous years).

Since law clerks are ultimately paid with taxpayer dollars, it is worth considering whether a group with largely homogeneous backgrounds and with predominately “elite” (that is, Harvard, Yale, Stanford) law school educations can truly be fair to all who come before the Court.  Remember that all citizens must live under the Court’s decisions and most citizens did not attend “elite” institutions.

Also, it seems that people that do not have these characteristics are essentially disqualified from being truly considered for a law clerk position.  There are approximately 1,162,124 (2008 number) attorneys and most of them do not attend the “elite” institutions.  Justice Antonin Scalia said as much at a recent speech at American University’s Washington College of Law.

Questions about the people who are filling these public positions should not be avoided because the topic is uncomfortable for some.  I commend Representative Serrano for asking this simple, yet extremely important, question that provides profound information to the public.

Cameras in the Courtroom

I may hold a minority view, but I think that C-SPAN camera access to the oral arguments is long overdue.  The Court’s objections to broadcasting of oral arguments through video camera only serve to thwart legitimate expectations of transparency and openness.  Citizens that do not live within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will have to expend tremendous amounts of money to get to the Supreme Court for a chance to view an oral argument (the Court’s courtroom is small, and public seating is limited).  In addition, with the expansion of the Internet, there is an increased need for information.

It is encouraging that the Court has decided to provide oral argument transcripts.  The publication of the oral argument transcripts is a step in the right direction.

Supreme Court: For Law Clerk Positions, Only “Elite” Law School Grads (In General) Need Apply

It seems that only graduates of “elite” legal education institutions (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) can apply to be law clerks for Justice Antonin Scalia.  Justice  Scalia spoke at American University’s Washington College of Law in May 2009.

A student at the event asked what a student that does not go to an “elite” law school needs to do to be successful as a future practicing lawyer. Justice Scalia responded, “Just work hard and be very good.” Fair enough, I suppose.

But this advice is not at all sufficent for a non-“elite” law school graduate to be a candidate for a Supreme Court law clerk position in his chambers. Nothing trumps an “elite” law school diploma.

‘By and large’, he said, ‘I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest, and they may not teach very well, but you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest, O.K.?’

I figure he can pick who works with him as he pleases. However, the taxpayer (most of whom do not attend these “elite” institutions), through the Congress, controls the salaries paid to Justice Scalia and the other Justices because the Supreme Court is a federal government institution.

There is rampant elitism already present in the selection of the law clerks. This is one reason why I cannot  support a 50% salary increase for federal judges (search judiciary pay for my previous posts on this subject).

Over the last six years, the justices have hired about 220 law clerks. Almost half went to Harvard or Yale. Chicago, Stanford, Virginia and Columbia collectively accounted for 50 others. No one from Washington College of Law made the cut.

Open questions, what are lawyers who are not in this select group supposed to do to earn money? Why have so many law schools if only  a select few can succeed?

Post Script

Supreme Court Law Clerks

List of Supreme Court Law Clerks (click here)

Law Clerk Addict [added 9/2/11]

Clerkship Notification Blog

Oath of Supreme Court Justices

The following is the oath that Supreme Court Justices take upon entering their office:

I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.