Judicial Branch Updates FY 2024 Funding Request, But Remains Concerned About Budget Shortfall
The Judicial Branch updated its FY 2024 funding request to Congress by nearly $184 million as part of the regular budget process. But it continued to voice concerns about proposed appropriation levels that are too low to preserve federal courts’ ability “to administer justice effectively and efficiently.”
In March, the Judiciary requested $9.14 billion for FY 2024, an 8 percent increase over FY 2023. It now is seeking $8.95 billion, a 5.8 percent increase.
“Many courts and federal defender offices scaled back on critically needed hiring and other investments in FY 2023 because of the significant uncertainty about their ability to sustain those investments in FY 2024,” the Judicial Branch noted in a Nov. 8 letter (pdf) from Judge Amy St. Eve, chair of the Judicial Conference Budget Committee, and Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, secretary of the Conference and director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This spending restraint helped the Judicial Branch to reduce its budget request pending in Congress.
Even with the lower funding request, the House of Representatives’ FY 2024 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill (H.R. 4664) falls $270 million short of the Judicial Branch’s needs, while the Senate’s version of the bill (S. 2309) would leave a $387 million gap. The House and Senate funding proposals are inadequate to offset inflationary pressures, or to properly invest in IT and courthouse security, the judges wrote in a letter of appeal to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government.
“A failure to adequately fund these basic costs will erode the branch’s ability to address its constitutional and statutory workload and support a strong judicial system that protects the rights and liberties of its citizens,” the judges wrote.
Without additional funding, the letter predicted staff reductions in clerk of court offices, probation and pretrial offices, and federal defender organizations.
“These shortfalls have significant real-world effects,” the judges wrote. “Without sufficient staffing, the Judiciary will be unable to … ensure court-appointed counsel for all eligible defendants, or properly supervise the thousands of additional incarcerated individuals who are eligible to be released in FY 2024 due to recent changes in the sentencing guidelines.” Judge St. Eve and Judge Mauskopf warned of similar impacts in a July 28, 2023 letter (pdf).
The Nov. 8 letter identified several especially pressing needs, even after the Judiciary scaled back its funding request:
Salaries. A 5.2 percent pay increase has been proposed for all civilian federal employees effective January 2024. For the Judiciary, which has more than 30,000 employees, this would increase personnel costs by $192 million. At the current proposed appropriations, funding a significant salary increase would come at the cost of other priorities.
Defender Services. A hiring freeze already is in effect in federal defender offices (FDOs), and both the House and Senate bills would require further downsizing of defender staff. “These on-board staffing losses would come at a time when the federal defender staffing formula calculates that FDOs need significant new staff to adequately address caseload and workload requirements.”
If the shortfall were instead applied to payments to private attorneys appointed by courts to represent eligible defendants, those payments would have to be suspended as early as July 23, 2024, well short of the Sept. 30, 2024 end of the fiscal year.
IT Security and Modernization. The Judiciary is seeking funding to meet information technology (IT) requirements in the courts, including cybersecurity needs and broader IT modernization efforts, and the additional staff needed to execute and oversee these programs.
“We continue to need significant new investments to address an increasingly complex security threat environment,” the Nov. 8 letter said, including “the virtual security of our information technology networks and systems, and to mitigate the effects of aging and/or obsolete IT infrastructure.” At the House and Senate levels, the Judiciary would have to reduce planned spending on these activities by 15 percent.
- Judicial Security. The appeal level will allow for hiring of additional security officers, replacement of aging courthouse screening equipment, and continued expansion of the Judiciary’s Vulnerability Management Program to assist judges with the removal of their personally identifiable information from websites and online databases. This was authorized by the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, which was enacted in December 2022. The House bill would essentially fully fund FY 2024 courthouse security requirements; the Senate level would require deferring $33 million in security spending.
The letter acknowledged the larger fiscal challenges facing the entire federal government, but it said the Judiciary’s needs require attention.
“We understand that any request for increased funds puts significant pressure on the subcommittees when total available resources are being held constant or reduced,” Judges St. Eve and Mauskopf wrote. “At the same time, it is the duty of the Conference to advocate vigorously for the funds required to administer justice effectively and efficiently, consistent with our constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”
Related Topics: Funding