WASHINGTON --- The federal court system faces staff reductions, delays in criminal and civil cases and a threat to public safety unless House Republicans agree to increase funding in 2014, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts warned Tuesday.
Sounding a bit like a broken record, Roberts again used his year-end report on the federal judiciary to boast of its cost-cutting measures and warn that further austerity would have serious consequences.
Roberts, a Republican named to the high court by President George W. Bush, did not single out the GOP for his wrath. But he noted that the Senate (controlled by Democrats) has approved even more money than the U.S. Judicial Conference has requested, while the House (ruled by Republicans) has come up with less.
"The judiciary continues to depend on the vision and statesmanship of our colleagues in the executive and legislative departments," Roberts said. "It takes no imagination to see that failing to meet the judiciary's essential requirements undermines the public's confidence in all three branches of government."
The plea was similar to one Roberts issued a year ago, when he used his annual report to urge President Obama and Congress to fill judicial vacancies.
Ironically, that issue is being resolved gradually because Democrats changed the Senate's rules to stop Republicans from using the filibuster to block the president's nominees. As a result, even the powerful federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit, where Roberts worked before his high court nomination in 2005, is being filled with Obama's choices.
While judicial vacancies are being filled, the judiciary's coffers are running bare, Roberts warned in his new report. Unless funding is increased to keep pace with inflation, he said, federal courts will face a 3% cut, which would mean 1,000 staff positions.
"In the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities and unvindicated rights," Roberts said. "In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety."
If lawmakers step in and save the judiciary from those cuts, Roberts said, they would be playing a role similar to that of Scrooge's ghosts and George Bailey's guardian angel.
"Both A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life have happy endings," he noted. "We are encouraged that the story of funding for the federal judiciary — though perhaps not as gripping a tale — will, too."