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Judiciary Warns of Impact of Deep Cuts in 2012
Balancing continued workload growth and fiscal austerity, the federal Judiciary this month asked a Congressional subcommittee for its smallest funding increase on record.
“All of us in the Third Branch are concerned about historic budget deficits and a growing national debt and we understand the need to rein in federal spending,” Judge Julia Gibbons, chair of the Judicial Conference Budget Committee, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
Subcommittee chairwoman, Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), cautioned that the subcommittee had been asked to reduce spending to 2008 levels.
In turn, Gibbons warned of the impact on the federal court system and the administration of justice in this country of proposed spending cuts, especially in light of requested increases for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, which will further increase the workload of the federal courts. Overall, the Judiciary’s workload is already at or near record levels in most filing categories.
“We do not have the discretion to decline or defer cases based on resource constraints,” Gibbons said. “We are required to adjudicate the cases that are brought to us regardless of staffing and resource levels in the federal courts.” A large funding shortfall would affect staffing levels, with significant losses in clerks of court and probation and pretrial services offices nationwide.
Subcommittee chairwoman, Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), and ranking minority member José Serrano (D-NY), opened their remarks at the hearing by offering their condolences to the federal Judiciary and to the family of Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Roll was among six people shot and killed in Tucson while attending a constituent gathering sponsored by Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Emerson acknowledged that, “Since 2008, the courts’ workload has increased significantly in many areas, such as criminal and bankruptcy filings, supervision of offenders and defendants living in our communities. I imagine it would be somewhat difficult for the Judiciary to reduce its funding to 2008 levels.”
Gibbons described the effect 2008 funding levels would have on the Judiciary. “It would be a very difficult situation for us,” she said. “Funding for the courts would be 18.9 percent below the 2012 budget request level. We would see serious and long-lasting problems for the courts in terms of supervision of convicted felons who are released from prison, delays in case processing, potentially resulting in the dismissal of cases and, if we’re talking about civil or bankruptcy cases, causing serious hardships for individuals and businesses. We would be talking about a decline in service, a reduction in hours in clerks’ offices. In the court security area, we would have to eliminate 73 percent of our request for security systems and equipment. It would be a very serious situation for us and for the public we serve.”
For fiscal year 2012, the Judiciary seeks $7.3 billion in appropriations, $299 million above the fiscal year 2011 assumed appropriations level. The Judiciary’s funding requests for its three largest accounts would be for:
- Salaries and Expenses. The Judiciary’s largest account funds the bulk of federal court operations, including the regional courts of appeals, district courts, bankruptcy courts, and probation and pretrial services offices. This account requires $5.2 billion for FY 2012.
- Defender Services. This program, which provides criminal defense services to indigent defendants under the Criminal Justice Act, requires $1.1 billion in FY 2012 to handle 206,200 defense representations.
- Court Security. A funding increase of $513 million would provide for additional court security officers, cover higher Federal Protective Service costs, and fund improvements to security at federal courthouses.
James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office, testified alongside Judge Gibbons on the need to obtain the funding necessary for the Judiciary, as well as the AO, to meet its responsibilities. Duff thanked the subcommittee for its past support, adding, “The one area where we could use additional help is in judgeships, particularly in areas of the country that are very overworked.”
The subcommittee also asked about the Judiciary’s cost-containment policies.
Judge Julia S. Gibbons (6th Cir.) and AO Director James C. Duff appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government this month to testify on the Judiciary's appropriations requirements for fiscal year 2012. They warned of the impact on the federal court system and the administration of justice in this country of proposed deep spending cuts for 2012.
Gibbons noted cost-containment initiatives ranging from a thorough review of organizational, policy, and process alternatives to improved courthouse facilities planning that includes the Judiciary’s biggest cost-containment success—limiting the growth in space rent costs.
“Through a number of process improvements and redesigns,” Gibbons said, “our projected rent payments to GSA are nearly $400 million below the 2012 rent projection made prior to initiating cost-containment efforts” seven years ago. Gibbons also noted successes in slowing the rate of growth in future compensation costs for court staff, reducing the need for new staff, and containing information technology costs without sacrificing the long-term benefits of investing in technology.
“We are committed to containing costs and exploring new and better ways of conducting our judicial business,” Gibbons said. “Our initiatives have significantly reduced the Judiciary’s appropriations requirements without sacrificing the quality of justice. I know you agree a strong independent Judiciary is critical to the nation. I urge you to provide the funding needed to enable us to maintain the high standards of the United States Judiciary.”
The full testimony of Gibbons and Duff is available online at: Judge Gibbons' Testimony and Director Duff's Testimony.