Sequestration and the U.S. Courts
Under sequestration, federal courts will receive 5 percent less funding in the current fiscal year than in FY 2012. As some U.S. courts shorten business hours, Federal Judiciary leaders have warned that long-term funding cuts could threaten the constitutional mission of the courts, erode the rights of indigent defendants, and create public safety dangers. This regularly updated issues page includes facts, articles and commentary on sequestration and the federal courts.
The government is running again, but federal district and bankruptcy courts and those who practice in them were shaken, to varying degrees, by the government’s 17-day shutdown at the start of the new fiscal year.
In a September 10 letter, the Judiciary has appealed to President Obama for the funding necessary in fiscal year 2014 to perform its essential constitutional functions. Without it, the federal courts face additional reductions in staff and services that will severely affect individuals and businesses seeking to resolve disputes.
In an emergency move to preserve Federal Defender staffing in FY 2014, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States has reduced hourly rates for court-appointed panel attorneys by $15 an hour.
Describing themselves as "the boots on the ground in our nation's federal trial courts," 87 chief U.S. District judges have sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating that reduced funding and sequestration have "...forced us to slash our operations to the bone."
In a congressional hearing on sequestration and the courts, a U.S. judge, federal defender and a private lawyer warned Senators that continued budget cuts would devastate the nation’s system of justice—threatening public safety, constitutional rights and economic well-being.
A federal judge today told a Senate panel that the number of personnel working in U.S. courts is at the lowest level since 1999, and that federal court clerks and probation and pretrial services staff could be furloughed for close to 70,000 hours this fiscal year.
The Judicial Conference of the United States has requested $72.9 million in emergency funding, saying that a supplemental appropriation is needed to "address critical needs resulting from sequestration cuts."
Statement of Chief Judge William B. Traxler, Jr., Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
As Judiciary leaders cautioned House appropriators about sequestration’s long-term effects, threatened courthouse closures and employee furloughs are becoming a reality.
A federal judge today 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."