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Chief Justice urges inter-branch harmony

NOTE TO READERS: Although the Chief Justice’s annual report was not to be published before 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, it appears that an Associated Press report has appeared before 9 p.m. Monday. Because that report has been picked up by at least some newspapers’ online editions, and by an online re-publisher, this blog is releasing its story a few minutes before the requested release time.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., disclosed on Tuesday that he has asked the federal courts’ administrative arm to suggest new ways to improve “communication and cooperation” with the other two branches of the U.S. government.  In his year-end report on the federal judiciary, the Chief Justice said: “The separate branches may not always agree on matters of mutual interest, but each should strive, through respectful exchange of insights and ideas, to know and appreciate where the others stand.” (The text of the annual report can be found here.  It was released early Tuesday as the new year opened.)

Roberts did not suggest any specific incident or cause for pondering new ways to improve the ties between the courts, the Executive and Congress.   But he mentioned the assignment to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to explore that issue as the first item on a list of initiatives he said he would continue from the work of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

The new Chief Justice also put in his annual pitch for increased salaries for federal judges, with a more optimistic note than in recent years. “Over the past year,” he said,”congressional leaders and a wide range of groups that value a capable and independent Judiciary have made progress on this matter.”

He noted that the House Judiciary Committee has approved a pay raise, to “restore judicial pay to the same level that judges would have received if Congress had granted them the same cost-of-living adjustments that other federal employees have received since 1989.”

While the new measure would not be a “full restoration” of the pay differential, the Chief Justice said it would be “a significant one.” He urged the Senate and the full Congress to complete the salary increase legislation promptly in the new year.

The annual report includes an appendix providing data on the business of the federal courts — including a 12 percent drop, the second declilne in two years, in the newly filed caseloads of the federal courts of appeals.  The report said that criminal appeals and federal prisioner challengers were down because of the Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in U.S. v. Booker, making the federal sentencing guideline system advisory rather than mandatory.  The report also said there have been fewer appeals from immigration rulings.