While the executive and legislative branches were doing a political dance on the precipice of the so-called fiscal cliff, Roberts used his end-of-year report to tout the judiciary's frugality.
Roberts starts out his report with a look 200 years into the past to the War of 1812 when a young United States took on Great Britain in a rematch of the Revolutionary War.
Today, Roberts wrote, "our country faces new challenges, including the much publicized 'fiscal cliff' and the longer term problem of a truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt."
"No one seriously doubts that the country's fiscal ledger has gone awry," he said in the report. "The public properly looks to its elected officials to craft a solution. We in the judiciary stand outside the political arena, but we can continue to do our part to address the financial challenges within our sphere."
The chief justice points out the judicial branch consumed a "miniscule portion" of the federal budget in fiscal 2012, less than $7 billion.
"That represented a mere two-tenths of 1 percent of the United States' total budget of $3.7 trillion," he wrote. "Yes, for each citizen's tax dollar, only two-tenths of one penny go toward funding the entire third branch of government!
"Those fractions of a penny are what Americans pay for a judiciary that is second to none."
Roberts delineated the judiciary's cost-cutting and efficiency efforts of the past several years, including rents, personnel and technology. The options for saving more on salaries, he said, "are limited."
"The rates of pay for judicial support staff have stayed the same for the past three years: Like other federal employees, judicial support staff have not received the standard cost-of-living increases designed to ensure their salaries keep pace with inflation, so they have seen a real decline in their salaries," Roberts said, while noting federal employees are scheduled to receive a cost-of-living adjustment in 2013.
"Because the judiciary has already pursued cost-containment so aggressively, it will become increasingly difficult to economize further without reducing the quality of judicial services," he said. "Virtually all of the judiciary's core functions are constitutionally and statutorily required.
"A significant and prolonged shortfall in judicial funding would inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for the people the courts serve."
Roberts said the high court's appropriation for fiscal 2012 of $75.55 million was a 2.8 percent decrease from 2011's request of $77.76 million. He said for fiscal 2013, the court's request rose to $77.16 million, "largely in response to new judicial security needs," but still less than 2011.
For fiscal year 2014, the court will request $74.89 million, or 3.7 percent below the 2011 request, he said.