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Judges seek sequester relief

Aug. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
The judges' letter to Congress said another year of sequestration would have 'devastating, and long lasting, impact on the administration of justice' in the U.S.
The judges' letter to Congress said another year of sequestration would have 'devastating, and long lasting, impact on the administration of justice' in the U.S. (Getty Images/Comstock Images)

Almost 90 federal judges are urging congressional leaders to spare the court system if lawmakers resort to a year-long continuing resolution for fiscal 2014.

“A second year under sequestration will have a devastating, and long lasting, impact on the administration of justice in this country,” 87 chief judges said in a letter this week to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate. Instead, the judges ask lawmakers to go along with a Senate Appropriations Committee plan to give the courts a 7 percent increase, or almost $500 million, over this year’s funding level after the sequester took effect.

The judges represent most of the nation’s 94 federal court districts, along with the Court of International Trade. Spokespersons for Boehner and Biden did not reply to requests for comment Wednesday.

While the start of fiscal 2014 is only a month-and-a-half away, lawmakers are far from agreement on any of the dozen spending bills needed to keep the courts and other federal agencies open. A stop-gap CR, possibly at this year’s sequester benchmark, is seen as likely, although lawmakers could later agree on a more generous spending package for the rest of the year.

Under this year’s sequester, the courts are absorbing an almost $350 million cut, or about five percent, from their previously approved budget. But on top of several years of flat funding, the reduction has caused “an unprecedented fiscal crisis that is adversely affecting all facets of court operations,” the judges said. Employee furloughs and staffing cuts are slowing processing of lawsuits and bankruptcy cases; funding for court security systems has been slashed 30 percent; and staffing in probation and pretrial services offices has fallen 7 percent since 2011, according to figures cited in the letter.

“Our workload does not diminish because of budget shortfalls,” the judges wrote.

They are not the only group alarmed by the prospect of a CR that prolongs the sequester. Earlier this week, an organization representing almost 1,500 Federal Aviation Administration managers asked the Obama administration to preemptively endorse tapping an airport improvement fund if needed to avoid another round of employee furloughs.

The judges’ letter, dated Aug. 13, was released Thursday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In May, the office had asked Congress for $73 million in emergency funding for this year; lawmakers have not acted on the request, Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the office, said Thursday.

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