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Judiciary Appeals for Resources as Congress Prepares Final Funding Bills
House and Senate appropriators have been urged to remember sufficient
resources for the Judiciary, especially the hard-pressed southwest border
courts, as they determine FY 2007 funding levels.
The FY 2007
Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the
District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriation bill was one of
more than a dozen uncompleted appropriations bills when Congress recessed for
the November elections. The Senate and House completed separate versions of the
bill in which the Senate would fund the Judiciary at $6.098 billion, while the
House would fund the Judiciary at a lower level of $6.063 billion. The Judiciary
requested $6.26 billion for FY 2007.
Now, Congress has returned for a
lame duck session with limited time to complete legislation.
continuing resolution expires December 8, 2006. Congress hopes to complete
action on the remaining appropriations bills before then, although it is
possible some bills will not be finished by year-end and will roll-over to
January 2007 for the 110th Congress to address.
The Judiciary’s greatest
concerns are resources for its southwest border courts, sufficient funding for
the courts’ Salaries and Expenses account where a decline in fee collections is
anticipated, and increased funding to avert a shortfall in the Defender Services
account. Judicial Conference Budget Committee Chair, Judge Julia S. Gibbons and
Administrative Office Director James C. Duff wrote on behalf of the Judicial
Conference to convey those concerns to House and Senate members as they met to
conference the appropriations bills.
In the last several years, arrests
of illegal immigrants have soared as thousands of border patrol agents have been
funded, and now the southwest border courts are struggling to keep up with their
workload. The five southwest border district courts account for nearly one-third
of all criminal cases nationwide. There also has been a dramatic increase in
immigration-related appeals in the courts of appeals.
given the workload needs throughout the federal court system, the Judiciary is
not able to provide significant relief to these courts within existing resource
levels,” wrote Gibbons and Duff. “We are hopeful that when Congress considers
immigration and border enforcement initiatives it will keep in mind the
potential bottleneck that will be created if sufficient resources—including
judgeships— are not provided to the courts.”
The Judiciary’s largest
account, the Salaries and Expenses account, funds court services, including such
non-discretionary items as salaries, rent, and benefits. Current projections
indicate a 40 percent decline in fee collections, primarily due to fewer
bankruptcy filings. The current Senate-recommended funding level would help
mitigate the impact of the decline in fee collections.
“While this will
not provide resources for workload increases over the past several years, it
will enable some courts to hire staff to address critical law
enforcement-related workload requirements they face, especially along the
southwest border,” the Gibbons/Duff letter said.
For the Defender
Services account, the Judicial Conference has asked for funding sufficient to
meet current services, a level of $781 million. This is a level above both the
House and Senate recommendations, but necessary if a shortfall in this account
is to be avoided. The Judicial Conference has warned that a funding shortfall in
this account will result in staff reductions in federal defender organizations
and deferral of panel attorney payments into FY 2008, which may affect the
timely disposition of cases and availability of counsel.
also urged retention of funding at the Senate level for new courthouse
construction projects, included under the General Services Administration
section of the appropriations bill, and $154 million for repair and alterations
Judiciary Warns of Harm from Across-the-Board Cuts
The Judicial Conference remains concerned that Congress
will adopt across-the-board cuts in the FY 2007 appropriations bills—cuts that
have, in prior years, harmed the Judiciary. “The Judiciary’s work is labor
intensive, and we must have the staff necessary to perform the courts’
constitutional duties,” Budget Committee Chair Judge Julia S. Gibbons and
Administrative Office Director James C. Duff wrote appropriators on behalf of
the Judicial Conference. “When we receive across-the-board reductions in
funding, we have little recourse but to apply them primarily to court staffing.”
In FY 2004 and FY 2005, the combination of across-the-board reductions and
delayed appropriations resulted in the courts losing the services of 1,800
employees between October 2003 and March 2005. The FY 2006 cut was mitigated by
compensation for General Services Administration rent overcharges. But current
court staffing levels are still 1,538 below the number on-board in October 2003.
“An across the board reduction in FY 2007,” they wrote, “could seriously erode
Judiciary staffing further and severely jeopardize the judicial