(Corrects paragraphs 10-11 to make clear Roberts urged judicial
emergencies be addressed)
* Roberts cites "fiscal cliff," says US budget "gone awry"
* Says federal courts are trying to cut costs
By Jonathan Stempel
Dec 31 U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday
called on the White House and Congress to provide sufficient
funding and enough judges to ensure that the federal judiciary
can do its job well despite the fiscal problems the country
In his annual report on the federal judiciary, Roberts
recognized the battle in Washington over the "fiscal cliff,"
saying the country has a fiscal ledger that has "gone awry" and
must address the longer-term problem of a "truly extravagant and
burgeoning national debt."
He said the judiciary has been doing its part to cut costs
aggressively, but can only go so far given that it cannot choose
its caseload or economize much further without reducing the
quality of its services.
Roberts noted the efforts of some courts to stay open after
Hurricane Sandy, with the Manhattan federal court working
without heat and under sparse light from emergency generators a
day after the storm struck in late October.
"A significant and prolonged shortfall in judicial funding
would inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for
the people the courts serve," he wrote. "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."
One need is judicial vacancies, which can be harder to fill
amid partisan divides in Washington.
Democratic President Barack Obama has won confirmation of
172 nominees to the federal bench, compared with 205 that his
Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, got over the same period
in his first term, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There are now 75 federal court vacancies, up from 55 when
Obama took office in 2009, according to the Administrative
Office of the U.S. Courts.
Twenty-seven of these vacancies have been deemed "judicial
emergencies" by the Judicial Conference of the United States,
based on case backlogs and duration.
Roberts urged the White House and Congress to act diligently
in confirming high-quality candidates to fill these vacancies.
The 75 vacancies include one judgeship that has been
unfilled for eight years as well as R oberts' own former seat on
the federal appeals court in Washington, which has been vacant
since he was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2005.
Obama has nominated Caitlin Halligan, general counsel to
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, for Roberts' old seat.
FRACTION OF A CENT
Roberts said the Judicial Conference, then led by Chief
Justice William Rehnquist, had adopted an aggressive
cost-cutting strategy in 2004.
He said such efforts remain necessary given that federal
judiciary, one of three U.S. government branches, received an
appropriation of $6.97 billion for 2012 - a "miniscule" 0.2
cents of each dollar in the nation's $3.7 trillion budget.
The chief justice also said frugality begins at home, noting
that the Supreme Court will seek $74.89 million of funding for
its 2014 fiscal year, down 1 percent to 4 percent from each of
the three prior years.
Cutbacks are needed even though most federal court caseloads
have not changed appreciably, based on data provided by Roberts.
While case filings in district courts fell 5 percent this
year to 372,563, filings in regional appeals courts rose 4
percent to 57,501. Supreme Court filings fell 2 percent to
7,713, and bankruptcy filings fell 14 percent to 1,261,140.
(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Mohammad