The Constitution and the Federal Budget: the Judiciary seen as a rounding error

The Constitution and the budget are very different but directly related. The Constitution describes fundamental values, values that define what the United States is and stands for and strives to become.  The budget, on the other hand, reflects what Congress and the President believe matters on a practical, day to day basis.  The budget is where politicians put our money where their perceived interests are.  To the extent that the federal budget reflects what politicians believe is in the country’s best interests, the Federal Judiciary is not among them.  How else to explain that the Judiciary is funded at a level that doesn’t even amount a rounding error? (two tenths of 1% of the Federal government’s three trillion dollar budget. See page ____ of Chief Justice Robert’s 2008 Report on the Federal Judiciary).

At the last possible moment in 2008 – 6pm on Dec. 31 -, the embargo on Chief Justice Roberts’s report on the Federal Judiciary was released.   No one was paying attention. Perhaps it was just as well.  Chief Justice Roberts is a fine writer.  But his eloquence could not hide an embarrassing and troubling fact:  the Constitution nothwithstanding, the Federal Judiciary is not one of three co-equal branches of government. It is dependent on and subservient to the Congress when it comes to funding.  It reflects poorly on the “American ideal”  when the head of the judiciary has to – again and again – beg and plead for adequate funding.  

The juxtaposition of the unmonitored, unaccounted for, unconditional funding of Wall Street bailout after bailout to Congress’ treatment of the Federal Judiciary justifies cynicism and disrespect.   

When Congress reconvenes, its first order of business should be to increase funding for the Federal Judiciary by at least 50%. Even with a 50% increase, the funding for the Federal Judiciary would not amount to a rounding error in the context of the entire budget.  Everyone should agree that spending such a small amount on the judiciary – on the Constitution and rule of law and on the processes that will play crucial roles in resolving the financial crisis – is in the national interest.   Congress ought to consider upholding the Constitution, the rule of law and the administration of justice as being too important to fail.  Those interests are every bit as important as finance and credit.  Congress was asleep at the switch for a long time in the area of financial regulation.  It ought to immediately stop making the same mistake in the area of funding for the Federal Judiciary.