Posted Thu December 31st 2020 at 6:00 pm by Amy Howe
Chief Justice John Roberts released his year-end annual report on Thursday and the topic, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the coronavirus pandemic. Roberts paid tribute to all of the members of the federal judicial system and federal government who allowed the courts to do their jobs safely, but highlighted what he called “the first to fight in the judiciary’s family” – the trial courts and their associates. ”
Roberts began his report, as he often does, with a historical clue: the outbreak of influenza that the first Chief Justice, John Jay, encountered while traveling to New York to hear cases before the lower courts. (In a hallmark of Roberts’ ironic humor, he noted that two judges who had skipped the first session of the Supreme Court received a more distant assignment that required 1,800 miles of travel – “provided,” he wrote, “another lesson on it what happens when you miss a meeting. ”)
Briefly discussing the Supreme Court’s response to the pandemic, Roberts noted that the court “argued orally for the first time via conference call” and managed to “keep up with our work”. The federal appeals courts, Roberts continued, “have responded with similarly deliberate flexibility,” as have the state courts, “which are responsible for most of the judicial proceedings.”
But it was the federal courts that “faced the greatest challenge,” said Roberts, and he believed they were responding. Roberts cited the example of bankruptcy courts with their often complicated cases in which “100 attorneys can be involved”. “Much of their work is not glamorous,” wrote Roberts, “but it is important and it is done.” Roberts noted that legal proceedings resumed after changes were made to the courtrooms to make them safer for everyone involved. Roberts was pleased that despite the pandemic, the public continued to stand up for the jury’s duty.
Roberts praised the judiciary’s creativity in responding to other aspects of the pandemic – for example, through drive-through ceremonies and outdoor naturalization ceremonies.
Roberts concluded by making it clear that “he did not want to minimize the difficulties and suffering caused by the pandemic. Like others around the country, court workers struggle with illness and loss. My thoughts, “said Roberts,” are with them. “
Roberts’ message did not mention the other topic that hit the headlines in 2020: the presidential election. Although Roberts is a lifelong Republican, both he and the court have been frequent targets of President Donald Trump’s wrath. Roberts began chairing Trump’s impeachment proceedings in 2020 and ended the year when Trump allies carried out savage attacks on Twitter. Even if Roberts didn’t say it, he’s undoubtedly looking forward to a new and calmer year.
This article was originally published by Howe on the Court.
Amy Howe, In the year-end report, Roberts praises “unsung heroes” of the pandemic,
SCOTUSblog (December 31, 2020, 6:00 p.m.), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/12/in-year-end-report-roberts-praises-unsung-heroes-of-the-pandemic/