An obviously unhappy Chief Justice John Roberts railed against automatic “sequestration” budget cuts in his annual Year End Report On The Federal Judiciary. Chief Justice Roberts complained bitterly about the spending levels imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, warning that the cuts to the federal court system’s budget “pose a genuine threat to public safety.”
“Unlike most Executive Branch agencies,” Justice Roberts complains, “the courts do not have discretionary programs they can eliminate or postpone in response to budget cuts. The courts must resolve all criminal, civil, and bankruptcy cases that fall within their jurisdiction, often under tight time constraints.”
The Chief Justice spelled out exactly what continuing the Tea Party’s beloved sequestration cuts would mean for the federal court system:
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.
Perhaps Chief Justice Roberts needs to have a one-on-one talk with Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who recently announced he thinks sequester cuts are working. The Iowa conservative says he will not be voting for the Ryan-Murray budget deal that would alleviate some of the sequester pain, but which still has funding levels which Justice Roberts insists are not sufficient.
Chief Justice Roberts ended with this plea for sanity:
“Congress has set a target of January 15, 2014, to complete the appropriations process for fiscal year 2014. In the coming weeks, and into the future, I encourage the President and Congress to be attentive to the needs of the Judicial Branch and avert the adverse consequences that would result from funding the Judiciary below its minimal needs.
The Judiciary continues to depend on the vision and statesmanship of our colleagues in the Executive and Legislative Departments. 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.”
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