Department of Justice Seal

Remarks of Deputy Attorney General James Comey
Judicial Conference
March 16, 2004

(Please Note: The Deputy Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

   Thank you, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

   I appreciate this opportunity to address the Judicial Conference.
I must note at the outset that I am here as a representative of Attorney General Ashcroft, who is recovering from recent surgery. I would have said that I am serving as Attorney General Ashcroft=s doppelganger, but people tell me we look nothing alike and I am certainly not of the same stature.

   I am also here today as a representative of the talented and hardworking men and women of the Justice Department. I wish to convey our collective appreciation for the important work you do and affirm our commitment to the pursuit of justice for all Americans. We recognize the need to work closely with you in this endeavor.

   The Department of Justice is the nation=s largest law firm. I also believe it should also be the best. As attorneys who make daily appearances in federal courts, we are committed to achieving the highest level of trial and appellate advocacy. To that end, during this last year we have implemented new appellate standards for all our United States Attorney=s offices.

   These standards are designed to ensure excellence in every office, no matter the size. Key components of the Appellate Standards include requirements that

(1) each U.S. Attorney=s office designate an Assistant U.S. Attorney to serve as the office=s appellate supervisor or coordinator;

(2) every appellate brief be reviewed by another, experienced attorney;

(3) attorneys are well prepared for all arguments, with moot courts mandatory in some cases and strongly encouraged in all cases; and

(4) federal prosecutors participate in enhanced appellate training conducted by the Department.

   We have also distributed a comprehensive Appeals Manual to every U.S. Attorney=s office. This manual provides guidance on structuring arguments in an appellate brief, proper legal citation format, and oral argument preparation. We expect that the manual will improve our consistency of excellence.

   I was raised as an AUSA in a district that had a long tradition of extremely rigorous preparation of appeals. I was lucky enough to serve as a supervisor in the appeals unit and luckier still to serve as United States Attorney there and argue before the Second Circuit. It is simply unacceptable for government lawyers to view the appellate process as a bad side-effect of a winning a case in the district court. Appellate work is critical to the mission of the Department of Justice and, more than that, to our system of justice. We will treat it accordingly.

   As your partner in the endeavor to ensure justice for all Americans, we have also sought your feedback on ways we can improve. Last month, the appellate supervisors of all 94 U.S. Attorney=s offices met with several of you, including Chief Judge Carol Dineen King , Chief Judge John Walker, and Judge Edward Becker.

   We have also participated in regional conferences, such as the Ninth Circuit Appellate Conference, which allow our attorneys to hear from you. We look forward to further opportunities to interact with you about issues that arise in connection with the Department=s appellate work.

   We are committed to the highest standards of integrity, quality, and accuracy in every brief and argument, and we appreciate your invaluable insights into how we can best meet those standards.

   The Department has sought to respond to your concerns in several areas, including the courts= ability to handle the heavy immigration appeals caseload. We have increased the ranks of the Civil Division=s Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) by detailing experienced attorneys from other offices, and we have ensured that senior attorneys in OIL review all briefs. We have also acted to reduce unwarranted delays in obtaining the administrative record in these cases and cut down the backlog on immigration appeals cases.

   We expect the number of administrative agency appeals to remain high for several years, but this development is explained, at least in part, by our efforts to streamline the immigration adjudication system. Cases are moving to the judicial review stage more quickly than before. The Department seeks to make the system more efficient and fair, and we will continue to respond to your suggestions and concerns in this area.

   I also want to address the issue of security provided to the Judiciary. The Department and the United States Marshals Service are committed to providing security to the Judiciary, and we believe that the current arrangement best serves the judges and the Department. However, a recent Department of Justice Inspector General's report has made it clear that we must constantly re-evaluate the adequacy of measures to protect your safety, particularly during high-risk trials in the post 9/11 era. The Marshals Service and the leadership at the Department of Justice are reviewing the Inspector General's report carefully. I want to assure you that the Department will take the necessary steps to ensure that we continue to provide the level of safety and security you have come to expect from us as your partners in every federal courthouse in the United States.

   Let me close by saying that I also think we at the Department of Justice need to work to improve the tone of our relationship with the bench. We will always have healthy B even robust B differences with our judges. But the tone should reflect our shared commitment to doing what is right. You may have noticed that I said Aour@ judges. I speak that way because that is the way federal prosecutors speak about the bench -- in an implicit recognition of the fact that we are part of a team that, along with the defense bar B although I=m not sure we call them Aour defense lawyers@ B make our system the best and fairest in human history. I honor your service and I pledge to conduct all our discussions in light of that shared commitment and I look forward to working with you.