By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
While it’s gone largely unnoticed by the national media, the U.S. Supreme Court’s workload fell again with a sharp 22 percent decrease in the number of cases filed in the court’s paid docket – even as Chief Justice John Roberts is asking Congress for a 22 percent increase in the court’s budget, to $140 million.
That large case drop at the high court – from 1,612 filings in the 2021 term to 1,252 filings in the 2022 term – was disclosed earlier this month in Roberts’ annual year-end report on the federal judiciary. It comes as survey after survey has found that the public’s confidence in the court has plummeted significantly since it discarded the constitutional right to abortion in January 2022 and the eruption of high-profile ethical controversies involving five of the nine justices.
“Confidence in the high court to render fair decisions is wavering. Lawyers are advising their clients not to seek Supreme Court review,” said Washington, D.C. lawyer Brett Kappel, an expert on campaign finance, lobbying and government ethics laws.
The total number of cases filed in the Supreme Court slipped 15 percent from 4,900 filings in the 2021 term to 4,159 in the 2022 term, Roberts’ report says. That total includes cases from both the court’s paid docket – cases where a party pays a filing fee – and in forma pauperis, or indigent docket, where cases brought by public defenders and prisoners are recorded.
The decline reported for 2022 marked the second consecutive downturn in paid cases at the Supreme Court. Roberts’ annual reports note the decrease in 2021 was 12 percent. The year before, the number of paid cases rose 24 percent to 1,830.
JUSTICES WANT 24-HOUR SECURITY
The court’s request for a big funding boost includes $5.9 million “to expand Supreme Court Police activities to protect the Justices.” [The federal government is operating under two continuing resolutions that extend government funding deadlines until early March.]
According to the 2024 Congressional Budget Summary prepared by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the justices now require round-the-clock protection that will need to be provided by private security.
“Ongoing threat assessment show evolving risks that require continuous protection. Additional funding would provide for contract positions, eventually transitioning to full-time employees, that will augment capabilities of the Supreme Court police force and allow it to accomplish its protective mission,” the summary says.
Who might the high court hire to provide them, and possibly their family members, security at their homes and while traveling? Don’t ask the justices. The federal courts aren’t bound by the Freedom of Information Act and are notorious for a lack of transparency regarding many expenditures. One notable exception: court construction, whose contracts are public because they are handled by the General Services Administration.
Two Washington-area firms would seem to be front-runners for providing security for the justices, with one holding a significant edge.
Constellis, which describes itself as “a leading provider of essential risk management and mission support services to government and commercial clients worldwide,” began life in 1960 in Coral Gables as a government contracting subsidiary of The Wackenhut Corporation.
Following decades of mergers, acquisitions, name changes and changes in ownership – including the assimilation of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater a decade ago – Constellis has become a behemoth in the private security services industry. Last February, it announced it had picked up “nearly $5B in contract awards in the preceding 12 months” from the U.S. departments of Energy, State, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and the “Intelligence Community.”
THE COURT’S ‘TRUSTED SECURITY ADVISOR’
While synergies that might arise from Constellis’ unique business relationships could cause apprehension about its also controlling security for the justices, the leading corporate candidate for such contracting work would appear to be the smaller, but better positioned The Chertoff Group.
Founded and run by former U.S. appeals court judge and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, The Chertoff Group has been Chief Justice Roberts’ go-to security consultant since 2018, as the nation learned last year in the wake of the embarrassing 2022 leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v Jackson, the decision that overturned 50 years of precedent on the legality of abortion by overruling Roe v Wade.
When Roberts issued a statement about its leak investigation, he disclosed that the court had consulted Chertoff to review its internal probe for sufficiency. Congress, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, and Rep. Henry “Hank” Johnson, D-GA, then asked Chertoff about his relationship with the justices. Chertoff replied that his firm had advised the court “on a variety of matters related to protecting the Justices, including at their homes and while traveling.”
“I believe our firm has become a trusted security advisor who understands the Court’s practices, operations, and culture stemming from our engagement since our support began in 2018,” Chertoff wrote. “Chief Justice Roberts advised us that he believed we were a logical choice to perform the assessment.”