Chief Justice Roberts: Sequestration budget cuts pose real risk to public safety

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 12:55 EDT
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John Roberts via AFP
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In his 2013 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts warned that the nation’s courts are being starved of funding due to the sequestration budget. According to Think Progress, Roberts warned that the resulting dysfunction poses a real danger to the public as offenders languish without trials, as public defender positions disappear and bankruptcy cases drag on and probation sentences and other court mandates become impossible to enforce.

The Sequestration cuts went into effect as ordered by the 2011 Budget Control Act, under which Congress’ failure to arrive at a working budget on deadline triggered sweeping governmental budget cuts. The judiciary, Roberts wrote, was already suffering from more than a decade of cuts before the Sequester went into effect.

“Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum,” Roberts said. “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.”

The 2005 George W. Bush appointee continued, “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.”

The crumbling of the judiciary, he wrote, “undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government.”

Roberts used the narratives of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and the Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” to illustrate his story, explaining what he felt was great about the U.S. court system in the past, the challenges it faces now and his suggestions for the future.

“Congress has set a target of January 15, 2014, to complete the appropriations process for fiscal year 2014,” he said. “In the coming weeks, and into the future, I encourage the President and Congress to be attentive to the needs of the Judicial Branch and avert the adverse consequences that would result from funding the Judiciary below its minimal needs.”

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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