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October 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

Putting the Strategy Together


In FY 2004, the Judiciary’s final appropriations were insufficient to support onboard court staff, and the courts subsequently suffered reductions in personnel nationwide. Obviously, policy and operational changes would be needed for the Judiciary to maintain staffing and live within its budget in the future.

As a member of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee for more than a decade and chair of its Economy Subcommittee for the last four years, Judge Robert C. Broomfield (D. Ariz.) acknowledged that some Conference committees were more active in containing costs than others.

“Over time it became apparent that with the funding increases Congress was giving us—or, more accurately, not giving us—there was going to be a substantial deficit in the long term,” said Broomfield. “It was at that time the Chief Justice decided he needed to ask the Executive Committee to become involved in the effort.”

“We knew we needed to look at our overall spending requirements from a Judiciary-wide perspective rather than on a piecemeal basis and make an effort to cut them. I mean a serious effort,” said Judge Carolyn Dineen King (5th Cir.), who chaired the Executive Committee at that time. “But the Executive Committee didn’t have the authority to charge an ad hoc group of judges with the responsibility to develop an integrated strategy,” she said. “So we put together a summary of the relevant information and went to see Chief Justice Rehnquist. I went through the numbers with him; I don’t think it took more than 15 minutes to lay it all out. And he looked at me and said, ‘Well, why can’t you do this?’

He gave the Executive Committee the authority and we gave the Conference committees with budget responsibility about four months to identify the factors that were driving costs and what could be done to control them or cut them. We also asked chief judges and court unit executives how they thought we could control costs.”

“We wanted the cuts to be the committees’ ideas—not the Executive Committee’s and not the AO staff’s ideas,” King said. “We believed that the people who needed to be making the decisions about the cuts were the people on the committees with budget responsibility. I was extremely impressed with the overall sense of willingness on the part of judges to do what was asked.”

By the September 2004 meeting, the Judicial Conference was ready to consider the Executive Committee’s comprehensive strategy for cost containment and a number of sweeping cost-containment measures recommended by its committees, even as Judiciary leaders continued to work to secure necessary funding from Congress.

“I remember sitting next to Chief Justice Rehnquist at the meeting,” King said, “and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Amazingly, the cost-containment strategy was unanimously approved. The Chief Justice turned to me and said, ‘Could you ever have expected that? Congratulations.’ And that was that. We had all of the basic components in place.”