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Condensed remarks from Chief Justice John Robert’s 2020 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary

January 20, 2021

On Thursday, December 31, 2020, Chief Justice John Roberts released the 2020 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. What follows is a condensed version of Chief Justice Robert’s remarks.

2020 was not the first time the United States has faced a pandemic. 230 years ago the very first Supreme Court justices took their seats as a yellow fever epidemic gripped the new nation. A hundred years later in 1918 the country the Spanish flu. Since March, the world has battled COVID-19. In this new war, the “greatest challenge was faced by the ‘first to fight’ in the judicial family—the trial courts and their staffs.” With obligations to the Constitution and other laws, particularly with criminal matters, trial courts and staff rush to work out how to carry out their vital functions while operating within the best available public health guidance.

Judges sprang to action immediately making video and audio conferences possible for criminal proceedings. By April, all manner of proceedings were taking place virtually from home offices or kitchen tables as judges quickly learned to use new technology. The adaptation of innovative approaches was a team effort. New partnerships with law enforcement, corrections officers, and counsel allowed access to courts while keeping participants and the public safe. Courts reconfigured to accommodate social distancing and contract tracing. As a result, jury processes were modified. Some courts implemented simple solutions such as drive-through courts and outdoor courts which were used during the Spanish flu epidemic.

Court IT, facilities workers, security, and building staff made it possible to keep the judiciary running \. Credit is also due to those who not only worked to found solutions but also took time to assist their peers with problem-solving and the everyday work of the legal system. Judicial employees did all of this in service to their country while contending with their own pandemic related illness and loss.

Chief Justice Roberts closed his remarks with this:

“This year, more than ever, I am privileged and honored to thank all of the judges, court staff, and other judicial branch personnel throughout the Nation for their outstanding service.”

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For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.