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April 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


White House Says No to FY 07 Courthouse Projects

Judiciary Goes to Congress with Critical Needs

The Judiciary has asked Congress for funding for seven new courthouses in fiscal year 2007—projects that were left out of the White House FY 2007 budget, but that ranked highest in terms of critical need for the federal courts.

The projects are, in order of priority: Buffalo, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; Jackson, Mississippi; Fort Pierce, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; San Antonio, Texas; and San Jose, California. The FY 2007 cost of the seven projects is $399.8 million.

“The Judicial Conference recognizes that these are times of serious budget constraints for the federal government,” Administrative Office Director Leonidas Ralph Mecham said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS). “Indeed, the Judiciary itself has faced budget hardships as it has struggled with, among other things, rapidly escalating rental payments to GSA.” And while the Judiciary remains hopeful for a breakthrough in negotiations with GSA in the way the rent obligation is calculated, “we also firmly believe that the benefits to the Judiciary, in terms of enhanced security, additional space, and improved functionality, more than offset the project costs,” Mecham wrote.

The Judiciary uses specific criteria to rank the priority of a courthouse construction project. Factors include the length of time a building has been filled, security deficiencies, operational problems, and the number of judges needing space. For example, the existing Fort Pierce courthouse is out of space and court agencies are spread out over four leased locations. Judges, prisoners and the public must travel the same hallways in the San Antonio courthouse, which raises serious security concerns. The Salt Lake City courthouse has no room for the new judges recommended for the district. In Savannah, there are only four courtrooms for seven judges. In Jackson, there is a clear view from the motel and garage next door into the court chambers and offices; and, in Buffalo, there is no room for a grand jury suite, no sally port for prisoners, no secured elevators or parking facilities, and no infrastructure to support new technology.

This is not the first time the White House has failed to include funding for courthouses in its annual budget. The Administration has refused to include funding for court buildings in five of the past 10 years.