In several posts (here and here) I have drawn attention to the "main project" of government, in which all government personnel are engaged, namely the project to grow the government. Are even the Federal courts part of the main project?
Last Friday Raymond Dowd, an executive of the Federal Bar Association, sent to Emil Arca, President of the Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society in New York, an invitation to an event yesterday with the title "Is Our Federal Justice System Being Dismantled?", subtitled "A report from Capital Hill on the budget battles, judicial vacancies, and adequate judicial pay." Dowd asked Arca to "make sure that the Federalist Society sends a representative to this event." Arca sent the invitation to (among others) me, and as a result the guy they got from the Federalist Society was me.
The event was held at the newer of the two Federal courthouses in Manhattan (500 Pearl Street), an over-the-top Taj Mahal of a building, and in the so-called "ceremonial courtroom" -- a stunningly opulent overuse of Federal taxpayer money that makes me uncomfortable every time I go there. In attendance were many of the judges, both from the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. (I did not see any from the Second Circuit.) The speaker was Bruce Moyer, identified as Government Relations Counsel for the Federal Bar Association. Moyer started his talk by making clear that the FBA is a 501(c)(6) organization, that is, an organization explicitly allowed to engage in lobbying. And he is the chief lobbyist.
And now to the main topic. It seems that the so-called "sequester," or 3% cut in some Federal discretionary spending, applies to the Federal court system. But Moyer claimed that for various reasons, such as only starting in the middle of the year and only applying to certain things (like, you can't cut judges' pay), it therefore really is much more than that for the pieces actually cut. Maybe even 8%!!!!! Well, the solution is at hand. A $74 million supplemental appropriation bill has been presented in Congress. And now to rally the troops. Light up the phones! Call your Congressman! Call your Senators! Write letters! We must get more money for the courts!
At the end of the speech Moyer made the mistake of asking for questions. So I put my hand up and got called on first. I didn't write my question down word for word, but here is a paraphrase:
Isn't the problem for the Federal court system not too little money, but rather a wildly over-expanded mission? And isn't the solution not more money to try to accomplish this mission, but rather shrinking the mission? The drug war uses up about 30% of the resources of the Federal court system and is a complete waste of time. If the drug war were ended the Federal court system would have about 30% overcapacity. If the resources of the Federal court system are strained as you say, why aren't you lobbying to end the drug war? Why are there some 4000 Federal crimes -- an approximate number because no one is even able to make an exact count? Why is installing a toilet of more than 1.8 gallon flush a Federal felony? Why is spreading dirt on your property without an EPA permit a Federal felony? Why, other than pure human jealousy and vengence, is so-called insider trading by a non-insider "tippee" a Federal crime? Currently the resources of the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York and of the Southern District Federal court are to a huge extent consumed by the non-insider insider trading jihad, with no one even able to offer any rational explanation of why this is a matter of Federal criminal interest. So what are you doing to lobby Congress to get the mission reduced so that the Federal courts can accomplish it with the abundant resources they already have?
Around that point I stopped, figuring it should be someone else's turn. (For those interested, the answer in summary was, "That's a very provocative question. If you have suggestions of what we should lobby for, please submit in writing and we will take up in our committees and decide after appropriate process whether we will do it or not.") Perhaps one thing I didn't ask but should have is this: If you think the Federal courts should get another $74 million this year, exactly which other programs or expenditures should be cut to provide this money? Or, if nothing should be cut, do you believe that we just have an infinite credit card here?
After that the event proceeded to other questions, most of which were of the form of "How can I best help to lobby for this money?" Nobody but me seemed to be in the slightest way uncomfortable about all of this taking place in the ridiculously over-the-top ceremonial courtroom that looks like something out of Versailles.
So the answer to the question is, unfortunately, yes, the Federal courts are part of the "main project."