WASHINGTON -- Forgive me for not feeling charitable toward John Roberts' Tiny Tim routine this holiday season.
The chief justice invoked both Scrooge's ghosts and George Bailey's guardian angel in the first sentence of his annual report on the federal judiciary, released on New Year's Eve, in which he begs for more money for the courts. "Both 'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' have happy endings," he writes. "We are encouraged that the story of funding for the federal judiciary -- though perhaps not as gripping a tale -- will too."
I agree with Roberts on the merits, that the judiciary "consumes only the tiniest sliver of federal revenues," and that it deserves more. But there is rough justice here: Roberts and his fellow jurists are being starved by a system that they, in large part, created.
No, Roberts didn't draft the "sequester" or the other budget-cutting measures that have caught the federal judiciary in the same net as other federal programs.
But his conservative majority has made the Roberts Court the most pro-business court since the 1930s, and he and his fellow justices have done a great deal to expand the rights of the wealthy and the powerful -- most notably by allowing them to spend unlimited sums to purchase lawmakers and to sway elections. The wealthy and corporate interests have responded by buying a Congress determined to shrink government and to weaken its reach.
This is the consequence of Roberts' judicial philosophy. This, Mr. Chief Justice, is what limited government looks like.
A widely cited study published last year in the Minnesota Law Review ranked the 36 justices who served on the court since 1946 and found that Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were the most pro-business of all. The other three conservatives on the current court were also in the top 10.
"Whether measured by decisions or justices' votes, a plunge in warmth toward business during the 1960s (the heyday of the Warren Court) was quickly reversed; and the Roberts Court is much friendlier to business than either the Burger or Rehnquist Courts," the study concluded. "The Roberts Court also has affirmed more cases in which business is the respondent than its predecessor courts did."
The most important of all these rulings was 2010's Citizens United, which essentially allows unlimited spending in elections by corporations and others with means. These independent expenditures expanded from $144 million in 2008 to $1 billion in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog. Independent expenditures in the 2014 cycle are running ahead of the 2012 level and triple the rate of spending in 2010.
Roberts may see his fellow jurists as victims of a Dickensian system. But they are the authors of this Christmas carol.