U.S. Judiciary: Chief Justice John Roberts Issues 2008 Year-End Report

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, issued a 2008 year-end report on the judiciary.

In his 2008 year-end report, the Chief Justice devoted significant time in detailing the judiciary branch’s work to control its costs in light of the economic woes in the United States. The way that the Judiciary branch seeks to achieve cost savings are in the ares of rent (19% of the Judiciary’s $6.2 billion appropriation), personnel (51%) [Essentially, the Chief Justice stated that the Judiciary will seek to do more work without an increase in the number of employees and will rely more on term (1 to 2 year) law clerks rather than career law clerks), and information technology (5%).

Moreover, the Chief Justice stated that, for 2009, the Supreme Court submitted a budget that did not request new spending. Even with that budget, a behind schedule renovation project is still within its budget.

The Chief Justice also mentioned the issue of judicial pay. But unlike previous reports, the Chief Justice emphasized the discussion on the receipt of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, which every federal employee received except judges (Note: see related post here).

I can agree with the COLA argument. Because judge pay cannot be reduced under the U.S. Constitution (Article III, section 1), even with the delay I still support annual Congressional approval of Judiciary COLAs.

However, I question the Chief Justice’s statement about the judiciary’s need for the “best of the best” lawyers to be judges (the chief Justice did not define what constitutes the “best of the best”). Certainly, those nominated to be judges should be intellectually capable. I do not believe however that only those who attended Ivy League-level law schools or achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA in law school are the only ones who possess the requisite intellect.

A judge must possess humane reason and then sufficient intellect in order to apply the merciless law. If a person misses an installment contract payment, a furniture company should not be allowed to confiscate all of a customer’s furniture bought from the store (see Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., 350 F.2d 445 (D.C. Cir. 1965). The circuit court did not allow the enforcement of the contract on a theory of unconscionability)? Strict application of law can produce unsatisfactory results.

In terms of judicial pay, I think that the level of pay must reflect the level of decisionmaking power of the judge, while recognizing that that the taxpayer can only afford to pay salaries of a certain level. I think the federal taxpayer has made a good decision in the compensation of judges. However, judicial members and nominees must possess the motivation to serve the public and taxpayer; the person that does not possess this motivation does not belong on the bench regardless of the person’s level of intellect.

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

Filings

8521

8857

8241

In forma pauperis

6846

7132

6627

Paid docket

1671

1723

1614

Cases:

argued

87

78

75

disposed

82

74

72

signed opinions

69

67

67

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