Chief Justice John Roberts Rails Against Sequester

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 1 2014 3:30 PM

Chief Justice John Roberts Rails Against Sequester

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Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts used his annual report on the federal judiciary to criticize the sequester, claiming that it seriously hindered courts from doing their most basic duties. Last year's report contained similar admonitions—Roberts noted that "no one seriously doubts that the country's fiscal ledger has gone awry"—but this year, the exhortations have grown more barbed. From the New York Times:

Chief Justice Roberts said the judicial branch had worked to reduce its costs for almost a decade, “long before the talk of fiscal cliffs and sequestration came into vogue.” This included, he said, restraints on courthouse construction and hiring.
The cuts that went into effect in March reduced judiciary funding by 5 percent, or nearly $350 million, the chief justice wrote, though Congress restored some of the financing in October. The reductions have created widespread delays in civil and bankruptcy cases, he wrote. Over time, he said, these delays will give rise to “commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities and unvindicated rights.”
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Roberts also warned of an emerging threat to public safety, as well as the risk of unduly delayed trials:

“There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trial and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community,” he wrote. Judges, court personnel and the public are also at greater risk, he said, as a consequence of cuts in financing for security guards at federal courthouses.
“There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants,” he added, “which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike.”

Still, Roberts refrained from accusing either party of wrecking the public fisc, striking, as always, the tone of a detached nonpartisan. That doesn't mean, of course, that there isn't partisan sentiment—or even political maneuvering—underlying Roberts' report.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.