As a law clerk for the U.S. District Court in 2003, I saw firsthand just how taxed the federal judicial system is, and I witnessed the need then for significant additional resources. Today, in 2013, because of sequestration, the burden on the federal judiciary has grown tremendously. While the federal caseload has increased, resources available to meet the needs of such an increase have been slashed. Between this and the President’s growing list of judicial vacancies, the nation’s federal judicial system, a critical part of a healthy democracy, is crippled.
There is officially a bipartisan chorus of judges, lawyers, journalists, and others who are sounding off about the federal courts’ financial crisis that is a result of the bizarre political wrangling that brought us the sequestration cuts. It is time that former law clerks add their voices to that chorus. The new American Bar Association President, James R. Silkenat, issued a call to action yesterday for ABA lawyer members to reach out to Congress and let Members know of the devastating effects these cuts are having on the judicial process. This is my call to action for former law clerks to take a stand too. We are a privileged few who know just how heavy the caseload is for our federal trial and appellate jurists. With dwindling resources and thus fewer alternatives to trial available, law clerks will fill what gaps they can and they will watch as their judges suffer under the load, as federal public defenders limp toward an ever-elusive finish line for their clients, as criminal defendants are warehoused in detention facilities and their constitutional assurances of a speedy trial wither and die on the vine, and as parties to civil litigation wait and wait for fair adjudication of their claims.
Former law clerks from all political backgrounds can follow the lead of the 86 U.S. District Court chief judges who stood up to Congress this month and said, “Enough!” Call on your Congress Members to restore funding cuts to the judiciary, post your comments here, contact your judge to offer moral support. Let’s lend our unique experience as law clerks to the groundswell that is building to protect the integrity of the federal judiciary.
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