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Funding Cuts Will Compromise Federal Courts, Judges Tell Congress

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A federal judge told Congressional appropriators of sequestration’s dire consequences for the federal courts; "the Judiciary cannot continue to operate at such drastically reduced funding levels without seriously compromising the Constitutional mission of the federal courts."

Judge Julia S. Gibbons, chair of the Judicial Conference Budget Committee, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, along with Judge Thomas F. Hogan, Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Read Judge Gibbons' testimony (pdf)  |  Read Judge Hogan's testimony (pdf)

"We cannot reduce our work if we face deep funding cuts," Judge Gibbons told the subcommittee.  "We must adjudicate all cases that are filed with the courts, we must protect the community by supervising defendants awaiting trial and criminals on post-conviction release, we must provide qualified defense counsel for defendants who cannot afford representation, we must pay jurors. . . and ensure the safety and security of court staff, litigants, and the public in federal court facilities."  Resources are needed to perform this work.  

The Judiciary seeks $7.22 billion in appropriations, a 2.6 percent overall increase above the assumed fiscal year 2013 appropriations levels. This is the lowest requested increase on record and as Judge Gibbons pointed out, "the minimum amount required to meet our Constitutional and statutory responsibilities." The request also represents a current services budget that limits the growth of the Judiciary’s largest account, the Salaries and Expenses that funds the bulk of court operations, to  just 2.3 percent. The increase does not restore any of the 1,800 staff lost over the last 18 months as a result of budget constraints.

Judges Gibbons and Hogan identified the Judiciary’s on-going cost-containment efforts in helping to limit the growth of the Judiciary’s budget. Among the initiatives are sharing administrative services among the courts, aggressively pursuing space reduction policies, including releasing space in underutilized non-resident facilities, and promoting the use of case budgeting to reduce defender services costs. 

"I must point out, however," Judge Gibbons said, "that while cost containment has been helpful during the last several years of flat budgets, no amount of cost containment will offset the major reductions we face from sequestration."

Judge Gibbons urged the subcommittee in its deliberations to take into account the Judiciary’s unique Constitutional role "and the importance to our citizenry of an open, accessible, and well-functioning federal courts system. . . . If sufficient funding is not provided to the courts, we cannot provide the people of the United States the type of justice system that has been a hallmark of our liberty throughout our nation’s history."