I spent some time yesterday morning discussing the effects of sequestration on education. What about the effects of sequestration on the judiciary?
According to a Blog of Legal Times (BLT) post, the federal courts would see drastic cuts of up to $555 million if Congress and the White House don’t find a scenic route to avoid the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’. Among other things, this would mean that one in three court staff positions, certainly including judicial law clerks, would be cut. With more than 80 vacancies on the federal judiciary, courts already are weathered by heavy amounts of complicated, lengthy, and expensive civil litigation and the need to quickly dispense justice in criminal cases. As Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said recently, “Our courts are already overburdened, and the sequester will result in cuts that will force courts to hear fewer cases, which means that court proceedings will be delayed even longer. This will be especially damaging in civil cases, where there are already over 40,000 cases that have been pending for more than three years…. Even more alarming, is what is at stake in the criminal context. If probation and pretrial services offices are downsized or closed, Federal courts and their staff will be unable to properly supervise thousands of persons under pretrial release and convicted felons released from Federal prisons.”
Although the tremendous across-the-board spending cuts that are sequestration would bring about confusion, uncertainty, and unrest that are likely to result in more civil and criminal complaints, the federal judiciary will essentially grind to, at best, a slow churn and, at worst, a complete halt. And, if sequestration does not happen, the federal courts still will need congressional support to confirm waiting nominees to the federal bench and increase spending to the federal judiciary.