United States Chief Justice John Roberts warns that sequestration cuts to the federal court system’s budget “pose a genuine threat to public safety.” In his 2013 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Roberts said the budget “remains the single most important issue facing the courts.”
According to the report, the impact of sequester cuts was more severe on the courts than on other parts of the government because all of the courts’ “core functions are constitutionally and statutorily required,” leaving no room for cuts. The 2011 budget cuts reduced court staffing levels to the lowest number of employees since 1997, although workloads increased during that period. Roberts notes:
Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum. There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process. There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trial and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community. There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants, which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike. There is less funding for security guards at federal courthouses, placing judges, court personnel, and the public at greater risk of harm.
If cuts to the Judiciary remain in place, “In the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights,” Roberts said. “In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.”
Sequestration was intended to be undesirable so that the threat of it would urge lawmakers to come to a budget agreement. However, as Think Progress reports, while Republicans initially tried to blame President Obama for the negative effects of sequestration, many later came out in support of the devastating cuts.
In July, House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee released a budget plan to increase sequestration cuts for domestic programs in order to transfer funds to defense spending. The proposal included increased funding for defense and security programs and further cuts to scientific research projects and agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which acts as a watchdog for fraudulent and reckless, Wall Street-type practices.
Roberts, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2005, said he urges the president and Congress “to be attentive to the needs” of the Judiciary. “It takes no imagination to see that failing to meet the Judiciary’s essential requirements undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government,” he said.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.