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Chief Justice Warns Sequestration Cuts Already Threatening Public Safety

By Josh Israel  

"Chief Justice Warns Sequestration Cuts Already Threatening Public Safety"

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Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jay Reeves

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in his annual Year-End Report on the State of the Federal Judiciary, blasted the 2011 Budget Control Act’s automatic “sequestration” federal spending cuts and warned that the cuts to the federal court system’s budget “pose a genuine threat to public safety.”

Roberts, appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush, listed “adequate funding for the Judiciary” as the “single most important issue facing the courts” and offered a Dickensian look at the federal judiciary past, present, and future.

Conceding that balanced budgets are important, Roberts blasted the Draconian sequester — cuts that came after nearly a decade of belt-tightening by the judicial branch. Because they had previously reduced costs significantly, the $350 million in new across-the-board cuts have already made it difficult for justice to be protected, Roberts argued, noting that “because virtually all of their core functions are constitutionally and statutorily required,” the courts have little discretion over what they spend:

ROBERTS: Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum. 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.

While last month’s Ryan-Murray budget deal will mitigate the sequestration cuts somewhat, Roberts warns that without more restored funding to the federal courts, the future “would be bleak” for America’s judiciary — which “undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government.”

While Congressional Republicans have criticized the sequestration’s cuts to the federal defense budget, they have defended the cuts to the federal judiciary and other non-defense expenditures. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary told his colleagues in November that he believes “sequestration is working.”

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