On September 17, The Constitution Project, along with 26 other nonpartisan groups that support fair courts and civil rights, sent a letter urging Congress to provide proper resources for the federal judiciary.
According to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, sequestration has lead to budget cuts of $350 million for the federal courts. This has resulted in a nearly 10 percent cut in funding for Federal Defender Offices, causing many offices to lay off employees and requiring remaining employees to take up to 20 furlough days each. Slashing the budgets of the court system threatens fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to counsel, jury trials and due process, as well as statutory rights, such as the right to a prompt trial.
According to Christopher Durocher, government affairs counsel for TCP’s criminal justice program, “Funding cuts to the federal judiciary, and to Federal Defender Services, in particular, threaten the integrity of our criminal justice system and fail to even achieve the intended savings. No matter what measures Congress takes to fund the government in the next fiscal year, providing adequate funding for Federal Defenders is critical.”
If Congress fails to increase funding for Federal Defender Services in the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1, staffing cuts and furloughs will continue in Federal Defender Offices. Private attorneys, whom the government pays to take the cases Federal Defenders are unable to, also face a reduction in their hourly rate and a four week deferral of payments in 2014.