Urging full financial support for the U.S. court system, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his year-end report Monday that the federal judiciary, unlike executive branch agencies, does not have discretionary programs it can eliminate or projects it can postpone.
The judiciary has been doing its part to carefully manage "its tiny portion of the federal budget" and because the courts have already pursued cost-containment so aggressively, it will become increasingly difficult to economize further without reducing the quality of judicial services, said Roberts.
The chief justice's report came amid a New Year's Eve drama as President Barack Obama worked with Congress to avert the fiscal cliff. The White House and congressional Republicans agreed to block across-the-board tax increases set for midnight, but held up a final deal as they haggled away the final hours of 2012 in a dispute over spending cuts.
Virtually all of the judiciary's core functions are constitutionally and statutorily required, Roberts said in his year-end report.
"The courts must resolve all criminal and civil cases that fall within their jurisdiction, often under tight time constraints," said Roberts. "A significant and prolonged shortfall in judicial funding would inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for the people the courts serve."
"I therefore encourage the president and Congress to be especially attentive to the needs of the judicial branch and provide the resources necessary for its operations," said Roberts.
In the just-ended fiscal year, the Supreme Court requested an appropriation of $75.6 million for judicial operations — a 2.8 percent decrease from the previous year's $77.8 million. In the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1, the Supreme Court's appropriation request rose to $77.2 million, largely in response to new judicial security needs — but still less than its fiscal year 2011 request.
In his report, Roberts said that for fiscal year 2014, the court will submit an appropriation request of $74.9 million — a 3.7 percent decrease from its fiscal year 2011 request.
The chief justice said that in the 2012 fiscal year, the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, other federal courts, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and the Federal Judicial Center, received $6.97 billion in appropriations, representing "a mere two-tenths of 1 percent of the United States' total budget of $3.7 trillion."