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Judges call on congress to end sequestration

Federal Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene has joined 86 other federal district court chief justices in a letter to Congress calling for an end to sequestration, the mandatory 10 percent federal budget cuts that have followed years of flat funding. The federal judiciary, facing budget cuts of $350 million in 2013, has lost more than 2,000 staff members, reducing personnel to 1999 levels at a time when workload has increased. In addition, furlough days due to sequestration are expected to total 8,600 by the end of this year.

“We have experienced firsthand the effect of those constraints and funding reductions,” reads the letter. “They have forced us to slash our operations to the bone, and we believe our constitutional duties, public safety and the quality of the justice system will be profoundly compromised by any further cuts.”

The letter was sent Aug. 13 to Senate President Joe Biden and to House Speaker John Boehner, along with Senate and House leaders and committee chairs.

“These staffing losses are resulting in slower processing of civil and bankruptcy cases, which impacts individuals and businesses seeking to resolve disputes,” reads the letter. “Funding cuts to the Judiciary have also put public safety at risk. The Judiciary employs nearly 6,000 law enforcement officers — probation and pretrial services officers — to supervise individuals in the community after they have been convicted of a crime and subsequently released from prison, as well as defendants awaiting trial.” 

The four-page letter goes on to talk about reduced security at courthouses and the reduction in funding for court-appointed attorneys. “Exacerbating the problem,” reads the letter, “is the fact that the Judiciary has no control over the number and nature of cases in which court-appointed counsel must provide a defense.”

“We look to Congress to recognize the uncontrollable nature of our workload and to provide the resources necessary for the Judiciary to perform its essential functions,” the letter concludes. Find the full letter on our blog this week.