Summoning Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of the past and future, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. devoted his annual report to the fate of the judiciary if funding is not improved.
"Let's look," Roberts writes in the report released tonight "at what has made our federal court system work in the past, what we are doing in the present to preserve it in an era of fiscal constraint, and what the future holds if the judiciary does not receive the funding it needs."
As part of his duties as chief justice of the United States, Roberts heads the Judicial Conference - the principal policy making body concerned with the administration of the U.S. courts. Every New Year's Eve he files his Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary." Very often the subject of the report is the issue of funding.
This year he calls the federal court system "the model for justice throughout the world." He says the courts "owe their pre-eminence " to statesmen "who have looked past the politics of the moment and have supported a strong, independent and impartial judiciary."
Roberts writes that even at a time of fiscal constraint, the independent judicial branch consumes only the "tiniest sliver" (two-tenths of 1 percent) of the federal government's total outlays.
He refers to the impact of the sequester, which led in part to fewer court clerks to process new civil cases, fewer probation and pretrial services officers, fewer public defenders and less funding for security guards at federal courthouses.
And he outlines how the judiciary continues to look for ways to conserve funds, especially in space allocation.
In December, the Judicial Conference appealed to Congress to approve an appropriation of $7.04 billion for fiscal year 2014.
Roberts says that the consequences of forgoing the funding in favor of a hard freeze at the sequester level would be "bleak." It would lead to more cuts in court staff, greater delays in resolving civil and criminal cases and a potential threat to public safety.
"A Christmas Carol," Roberts writes of the Dickens classic, had a happy ending. "We are encouraged that the story of funding for the Federal Judiciary-though perhaps not as gripping a tale-will too."
A copy of the report can be found byclicking here.