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An Interview with Representative José Serrano (D-NY)
U.S. Representative José E. Serrano represents the Sixteenth
Congressional District of New York, in the Bronx. He joined the House
Appropriations Committee in 1993 and is the chair of the new
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Congressman
Serrano was first sworn in as a Member of the U.S. House of
Representatives in March 1990.
chair the newly formed Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial
Services and General Government, of which the Judiciary is part. Why was
the subcommittee formed and what will be its jurisdiction?
the 109th Congress, Republicans chose to reduce the number of
subcommittees from 13 to 10. Over the course of the past two years,
Democrats came to realize that this amended subcommittee structure
created funding struggles for many agencies, which were pitted against
one another in a fight for funding. When we took over Congress after the
midterm elections, Chairman Obey made the decision to once again
increase the number of subcommittees, to allow the Appropriations
Committee to conduct the proper amount of oversight, and to better break
out the funding needs of particular agencies. Furthermore, the new
subcommittee structure aligned with those of the Senate, which makes
considering the differences between the chambers’ versions of the same
appropriations bills far less cumbersome.
The subcommittee will have jurisdiction over multiple
agencies and departments in addition to the Judiciary. The largest of
these, in budgetary terms, is the Treasury Department. However, the
subcommittee will also have jurisdiction over the District of Columbia,
the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, the
Small Business Administration, and the Securities and Exchange
Commission, among others.
Q: How will the new subcommittee be run under your leadership?
I expect and hope that the new subcommittee will be run in as
bipartisan a manner as possible, and that all members of the
subcommittee will respect the views of their fellow members. There are a
lot of agencies and issues that we need to examine, and we will do so
with an eye not just towards their current funding needs, but their
funding needs in future fiscal years. Oversight is one of the priorities
of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. We felt
that rigorous oversight was substantially left undone in past years,
and consequently one of our Constitutional responsibilities was
neglected. I look forward to delving into the funding and programmatic
priorities of the agencies and departments that fall under the
not a newcomer to the Judiciary and its budget. Can you tell us
something about your history, from an appropriations viewpoint, with the
to fiscal year 2006, I was the ranking member of the Commerce, Justice,
State (CJS) subcommittee, which had jurisdiction over the Judiciary.
During my time on that subcommittee, I always tried to be strongly
supportive of funding for the federal courts. We sometimes had to make
difficult decisions, but we always tried to be fair to the needs of the
The relationship with the Judiciary is, of course,
different, and as this is the source of funding for a co-equal branch of
government, it will be treated appropriately as we move forward with
this new subcommittee’s assignments.
Q: What does Fiscal Year 2008 look like in terms of overall availability of funding?
of the Administration’s misguided tax cuts, as well as the ongoing
funding for the war in Iraq, we continue to face a tight budget climate.
However, I do intend to try and provide sufficient funding for each
agency to properly do its job.
do you look for in a submitted appropriations request? What will your
subcommittee look at when it comes time to focus on the budget for the
Judicial Branch, like all other governmental entities funded in the
bill, will need to present a clear case for their Fiscal Year 2008
budget request. The Judiciary will need to demonstrate with as much
specificity as possible as to why it needs the various funding levels it
How do you view the role of the courts?
courts are very much the moral conscience of the legislative and
executive branches. I strongly believe that the courts have been, and
continue to be, a positive agent for social change. Our Constitution has
some very lofty ideals, but our history shows that we don’t always want
to adhere to them. The courts have played an important role in securing
equal rights for all Americans, and in making sure that our nation
lives up to the values that it espouses, and in continuing to protect
our civil rights and civil liberties.
As a corollary to this, I also am strongly opposed to
Congressional attempts to interfere with the domain of the judicial
system. In the last Congress there were several pieces of legislation
that attempted to limit the ability of courts to review particular parts
of the law, and I simply do not agree with those efforts. All branches
of government need to respect the system of checks and balances
enshrined in the Constitution.
Q: It looks like neither Members of Congress nor federal judges will
receive a cost of living increase in FY 2007. What do you think the
long-term effect will be of the denial of COLAs for federal judges?
judicial pay is an important issue, and one to which Chief Justice
Roberts devoted his entire 2006 Year-End Report. If we are to recruit
the best legal minds to serve on our federal courts, then we need to
make sure that the economic sacrifice, when compared to private life, is
not too great. This is an ongoing issue that this new subcommittee will
Q: The issue of courthouse construction funding also will come before your
subcommittee. As you have a unique perspective on the Judiciary, how do
you view proposed funding for courthouses?
in Congress need to make sure that our co-equal branches of government
have the facilities needed to do the work of the American people. Making
sure that our federal courthouses have enough space to conduct their
constitutional duties, and have adequate security measures in place to
ensure the safety of those who work in those buildings, is an important
priority. I know that the federal courthouse in Buffalo in my home state
of New York is an important demonstration of these needs.