The federal justice system is about to collapse and public safety is at risk, according to 87 federal justices in district courts around the country. The reason is sequestration. The warning was sent via a letter signed by all 87 to key members of Congress: Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
That would seem to be a powerhouse of officials who could adequately address the problem. But these are the same ‘leaders’ who dithered around with the budget last year, unable to come up with an agreement, until the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration had to take effect by law–beginning March 1st. Even the possibility of a nationwide crisis hasn’t moved these elected officials to take action, and they are once again facing a showdown over the budget when Congress resumes in September. Nevertheless, the judges are pleading with the legislative body not to approve another year of sequestration, and another round of cuts, for the fiscal year beginning Sept. 30th.
In their letter, the judges say that services have already been cut ‘to the bone’, with the staffing level of the courts at its lowest point in 14 years, even as its workload continues to increase. They cite as one of their biggest concerns, the cuts that have been made to their ability to monitor offenders, saying:
Particularly troublesome is the 20 percent cut that had to be made to the law enforcement allotments that fund drug, mental health, and sex offender treatment and testing services for offenders, searches, and electronic and GPS monitoring.
While the federal defender offices — responsible for providing lawyers for those who can’t afford them — have had to lay off or furlough personnel, the Department of Justice — which feeds cases to the judicial system — has not. The result is an ever-expanding caseload with fewer and fewer resources for them to go to trial. Even Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law, charged with conspiring against Americans, has seen his trial in New York postponed because of the budget cuts.
One of the signatories, Chief Federal Judge Ruben Castillo of Chicago, said that the operations of his court are down 25%, but the caseload, of course, is up:
We have to do the public’s work in resolving criminal cases. We’re not just like a forest or park who can close their doors.
Another round of cuts would be devastating. As the folks on the front lines, interacting with and serving the public on a daily basis, we conclude by emphasizing that any further cuts to the judiciary would directly affect our ability to carry out our constitutional and statutory duties.
While that may be more than enough to frighten the judges, as well as the public, they are addressing a body that apparently doesn’t take its own constitutional and statutory duties seriously. If they did, the country would have a budget.
Image from news.uscourts.gov.
edited by eap