U.S. Judiciary: Chief Justice John Roberts Issues 2014 Year-End Report

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, issued a 2014 year-end report on the judiciary.

The Chief Justice focused on the U.S. Courts and their adaptation to improvements in information technology. Essentially, the Chief Justice explained that the federal court system is and will be slow to adopt new technology to its operations. The goal of the federal court system is to provide litigants fair and efficient access to courts, the Chief Justice stated. The Chief Justice made a reference to the tortoises on the bases of the Supreme Court’s exterior lampposts as a symbol of the judiciary’s commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice.

[Comment:  But a tortoise’s pace is very slow, and it is a presumption that the slow pace is for the cause of justice. It can easily become an obstacle to progress as well (in 2014, in particular, the issues with police authority and its effects on the community as well as the judiciary’s interaction with law enforcement and citizens (that is, grand juries) make this point (of the court’s approach as being an obstacle to progress) salient during this period of assessing the fairness of the court system to all citizens).

The Court is as reliant on the consent of the governed as other government institutions, but it is interesting that the Chief Justice did not discuss this aspect in the report.]

Continuing with the report, the Chief Justice identified several technological improvements that the federal court system has adopted:

  • Computer-assisted legal research.
  • Computer-assisted graphics, video, and other technological aids to facilitate communications with judges and juries in the courtroom.
  • Automation of the federal court’s filing, acceptances, and retrieval of documents that each court receives each day (electronic case filing and case management (CM/ECF).
  • Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) allows the public to find court records in a way not possible before CM/ECF.

For the future, the Chief Justice noted that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts are planning to develop an updated CM/ECF, which will add a central sign-on feature. Also, the Chief Justice added, the future plans include, for example, automatic calendaring notices to interested parties.

The Supreme Court will develop its own electronic filing system in 2016 or so, the Chief Justice explained. The Court will provide further information about its plans in the coming months, the Chief Justice stated.

[Note 1: Judicial pay has remained at the 2014 level for 2015. See Executive Order 13655, schedule 7 (https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/pay-executive-order-2014-adjustments-of-certain-rates-of-pay.pdf).

Position Pay in 2010-2013 (in dollars) Pay in 2014 (in dollars) Pay in 2015 (in dollars)
Chief Justice of the United States 223,500 255,500 255,500
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court 213,900 244,400 244,400
Circuit Judges 184,500 211,200 211,200
District Judges 174,000 199,100 199,100
Judges of the Court of International Trade 174,000 199,100 199,100

]

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. Six per curiam decisions were issued during this term in cases that were not argued.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Filings 8521 8857 8241 7738 8159 7857 7713 7509 7376
In forma pauperis 6846 7132 6627 6142 6576 6299 6160 6005 5808
Paid docket 1671 1723 1614 1596 1583 1558 1553 1504 1568
Cases:
argued 87 78 75 87 82 86 79 77 79
disposed 82 74 72 83 77 83 73 76 77
signed opinions 69 67 67 74 73 75 64 73 67
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