The drastic spending cuts that hit the United States on March 1 will "strike at the heart" of the US justice system, a group of judges warned Tuesday.

If the budget slashes known as the "sequester" stay in force, the justice system will see a five percent across the board cut -- worth some $350 million -- for the 2012 fiscal year, which is already nearly half over.

"A cut of this magnitude, particularly so late in the fiscal year, will affect every facet of court operations," said Judge Julia Gibbons, budget committee chair for the Judicial Conference of the United States, at the group's bi-annual meeting.

"Reductions of this magnitude strike at the heart of our entire system of justice and spread throughout the country."

"The longer the sequestration stays in place, the more severe will be its impact on the courts and those who use them," she added, predicting a layoff of up to 2,000 employees across the country.

Conference leader Chief Judge William Traxler also warned the "emergency" situation could threaten the judicial system's ability to fulfill its "constitutional responsibilities."

On March 1, President Barack Obama implemented the so-called sequester, $85 billion in mandatory cutbacks to government spending over the next seven months, after failing to get Congress to agree on a less severe approach to reducing the federal deficit.

-- --

[Judge shouts into microphone via Shutterstock]