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Chief Justice Roberts says federal courts will rein in spending

Roberts says the Supreme Court will request less funding, but he urges faster action on federal court vacancies.

January 01, 2013|By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
  • Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. says the Supreme Court will ask for $75 million next year, a 3.7% decrease from the spending level of three years ago.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. says the Supreme Court will ask for $75… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )

WASHINGTON — While Congress and President Obama fight over taxes and spending, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the third branch of government was doing its part by holding down spending for the federal courts.

Roberts said the U.S. Supreme Court would will ask for $75 million next year, a 3.7% decrease from the spending level of three years ago.

Nationwide, the federal courts spent about $6.9 billion in the last fiscal year, a "minuscule portion of the federal budget," Roberts wrote in his year-end report on the judiciary. "For each citizen's tax dollar, only two-tenths of one penny go toward funding the entire third branch of government."

In the past, the chief justice has used his annual message to call for salary increases for federal judges. In 2007, he warned of a possible "constitutional crisis" if judges, facing a salary freeze, decided to step down in favor of law firm jobs that pay far more than the salary of a U.S. district judge, currently $174,000.

He did not repeat that call this year. Instead, Roberts took note of "the much publicized 'fiscal cliff' and the longer-term problem of a truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt. No one seriously doubts that the country's fiscal ledge has gone awry."

Roberts said the courts were seeking to save money by reducing rented space, trimming staffs and making smart use of information technology.

Roberts made only brief mention of another perennial problem: the vacancies on the federal bench. At year's end, there are 75 open seats on U.S. district and appellate courts, nearly 9% of the total. The chief justice said 27 of the vacant seats constitute "judicial emergencies" because the judges face an unusually heavy workload. "I urge the executive and legislative branches to act diligently in nominating and confirming highly qualified candidates to fill those vacancies," Roberts said.

Since Obama took office, the number of vacant judgeships has risen. Partisans on both sides offer different explanations. Republicans have faulted the administration for taking too long to make nominations, while the Democrats have faulted Senate Republicans for dragging their feet in approving Obama's nominees.

david.savage@latimes.com

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