In his 2016 year-end report on the federal judiciary, released today, Chief Justice John Roberts did not address the February 13, 2016, death of Justice Antonin Scalia or the nearly eleven months in which the Supreme Court has operated with only eight justices. Instead, Roberts paid homage to federal district judges and the “crucial role” that they play in the federal judiciary. Roberts described the position of the federal district judge – in which, among the eight current justices, only Justice Sonia Sotomayor has served – in some detail, starting with “supervising the important pretrial process and conducting the trial itself.” “This is no job,” Roberts observed, “for impulsive, timid, or inattentive souls.”

Criminal trials, Roberts noted, “place especially high demands on the” district court judge, particularly when it comes to sentencing. The district judge must “impose a penalty that, by design and necessity, will alter the direction of the defendant’s life.”

Roberts also praised recent changes to the federal rules governing civil cases that interject district judges into case management earlier in the proceedings, in the hope that such investments will make the ultimate resolution of the case more efficient and perhaps even faster. “A lumberjack saves time,” Roberts posited, “when he takes the time to sharpen his ax.”

In an appendix to his report, Roberts included statistics on the workload of the federal courts. The number of cases filed at the Supreme Court decreased on net from the October Term 2014 to the October Term 2015, but the number of “paid” cases – that is, those not filed by prisoners or others who are unable to pay the filing fee – increased very slightly. The number of signed opinions also decreased over that period, from 66 to 62.

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Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Chief Justice releases year-end report, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 31, 2016, 9:21 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/12/chief-justice-releases-year-end-report/