The Chief Justice as Advocate-in-Chief
Vining, Richard L., Wilhelm, Teena, Judicature
Examining the Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary
Reviewing Roberts'record as an agent of judicial reform.
On December 31, 2009, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., released the 2009 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. For the first time in the history ofthis address, itincluded no requests for judicial improvements. Instead, Roberts acknowledged the public's hardship during economic recession and only mentioned that "critical needs of the judiciary.... remain to be addressed." Journalists regarded the paucity of proposals in the yearend report as unusual1 and remarked that Roberts had "abandoned" standard practices by chief justices2 and "left many people scratching their heads."3 If these journalists are correct, to what extent did Roberts depart from tradition? Our understanding of the chief justice as an advocate for judicial improvements is limited. No systematic assessment of the year-end report or its content has been conducted, nor have scholars examined whether its content changes over time. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest whether goals outlined in year-end reports are likely to be achieved. These observations prompt two interesting empirical questions. First, what judicial improvements reach the agenda of the chief justice? Second, to what degree do chief justices achieve the enactment of items on their reform agendas?
In this paper we examine the Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, the key agenda-setting tool of the chief justice. In doing so, we examine the role of the chief justice as the most visible advocate for judicial reform. We review the history of the Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary and describe the evolution of the administrative leadership of the chief justice. We then analyze the content of year-end reports from 1970 to 2011 and summarize agendas over time and by chief justice. Finally, we discuss which proposals were enacted in the year following their inclusion in the year-end report.
The Chief Justice and improvements in the Federal Courts
The chief justice is the most prestigious judge in America. He has the bully pulpit associated with the office, is the leader of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and selects key appointees at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and Federal Judicial Center.4 The chief justice has more than 80 responsibilities mandated by federal statutes.5 One result of the many roles fulfilled by the chief justice is that he is the most visible advocate for federal court improvements.
The Chief Justice as Communicator and Agenda-setter
The leadership of the chief justice is noteworthy both within and outside his court. He serves an important function as head of the federal judiciary, specifically with regard to judicial improvements. Mark W. Cannon, the former administrative assistant to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, emphasized the leadership of the chief justice in judicial reform;
Because of the typical low visibility of judicial improvement issues and the lack of support from powerful interest groups and electoral constituencies, few reforms in the administration of the federal court system have been effected in the absence of a chief justice who has been willing to use the status of the office to dramatize and promote the issues.'
Burger argued that "[s]omeone must make these problems real to the busy members of Congress overwhelmed as they are with a host of other more visible problems - pressed on them by skillful lobbyists".7 He explained that they must be "pressed forward by someone" with "[a] sense of urgency - to arouse the public and the legai profession to the advanced state of obsolescence of many parts of the judicial machinery." An important tool available to the chief justice is the Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. In the following sections we discuss its origins, purpose, and content.
The Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary
The Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary is released atthe end of each year and is analogous to the president's State of the Union Address. …