The federal courts are seeking an additional $73 million in emergency funds for this year to prevent layoffs and other repercussions from sequester-related budget cuts. (Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images)
The federal courts are seeking an additional $73 million in emergency funds for this year to prevent layoffs and other repercussions from sequester-related budget cuts.
“The judiciary is confronting an unprecedented fiscal crisis that could seriously compromise the constitutional mission of the United States courts,” top judicial officials said in a Tuesday letter to the Office of Management and Budget.
The supplemental appropriations request would offset about one-fifth of the approximately $350 million that the courts are losing to the sequester. Unlike some executive branch agencies, the courts have “little flexibility to move funds between appropriations accounts” to lessen the cuts’ effects, Julia Gibbons and Thomas Hogan of the Judicial Conference of the United States said in the letter to OMB Director Sylvia Burwell. The conference sets policy for court administration. Hogan serves as its secretary; Gibbons is chair of the budget committee.
The request will need congressional approval. In their letter, the two ask the White House to submit the request to Capitol Hill “promptly and without change.” An OMB spokesman did not respond to questions Wednesday on how the budget office would handle the request from a separate branch of government. Spokespersons for the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that handle court funding could not be reached, but judicial officials are working with lawmakers, said Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Already, Redmond said Wednesday, many courts are furloughing staff. The extra money could save about 500 jobs in clerks’ offices, as well as in probation and pretrial services, and prevent furloughs for some 3,300 employees, Gibbons and Hogan wrote.
The supplemental funding would also allow the courts to keep up payments to private attorneys who represent indigent defendants. Under current plans, about $28 million in payments normally due in September would be pushed into next fiscal year. At federal defender organizations, another $8.7 million would “save the jobs” of about 50 employees and avoid an average of about six furlough days for 1,700 others, the letter says. The judiciary is also requesting $5 million for anticipated defense representation and expert costs related to “high-threat trials,” including the Boston Marathon bombing case.
Some $13 million would restore about half of the sequester cuts for drug testing, substance abuse and mental health treatment services for defendants awaiting trial and criminals released from prison.