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Chief Justice Roberts urges progress naming judges

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats must find a long-term solution to selecting federal judges, Chief Justice John Roberts says, while blaming both sides for the political gridlock of judicial nominations in the Senate.

“Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” Roberts said Friday in his year-end report. “This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads.”

There are more than 90 judicial vacancies in U.S. district and appellate courts. But only 60 nominees have been confirmed by the Senate for U.S. appellate and district courts in the past two years, with another 19 receiving no up-or-down vote.

Thirteen of the unconfirmed nominees received unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some were opposed by Republicans who believe the nominees are liberal activists who would allow their views to influence rulings.

“I am heartened that the Senate recently filled a number of district and circuit court vacancies, including one in the Eastern District of California, one of the most severely burdened districts,” Roberts said. “There remains, however, an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.”

Cutting costs

On the topic of reining in costs, Roberts said the Supreme Court will join Congress and President Barack Obama in cutting costs to reduce the federal deficit.

Roberts asked the court’s staff to cut unnecessary expenses and improve operations to save money.

“As a result of those efforts, and notwithstanding increases in operating costs owing to inflation, the court expects to voluntarily reduce its fiscal year 2012 appropriations request to less than its fiscal year 2011 request. Not many other federal government entities can say that,” Roberts said.

The federal judiciary is not a large part of federal spending — “less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget for one of the three constitutional branches of government,” Roberts said.

“But the courts are committed to working closely with the president and Congress to shoulder our share of the burdens of reducing the federal deficit,” the chief justice said. “We will strive to reduce costs where possible, but we ask in return that our coordinate branches of government continue to provide the financial resources that the courts must have to carry out their vital mission.”

The other federal courts are also striving to save money, Roberts said. “Those initiatives include focused efforts to reduce judicial costs through more efficient use of office space, information technology and support personnel,” he said.

The judiciary will reduce by 60 percent its request for new court staff in the next budget year, Roberts said.