Updated 5:53 p.m.
Speaking today at the Judicial Conference's biannual meeting in Washington, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Julia Gibbons warned that sequestration – mandatory budget cuts that went into effect March 1 – put the federal judiciary "in uncharted territory," according to a release from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Gibbons, who chairs the conference's budget committee, said that the cuts will affect "every facet of court operations." Sequestration required the judiciary to find $350 million in cuts, representing a five percent reduction of the courts' budget this year.
The largest share of those cuts, $93 million, would come from salaries, as previously reported by The National Law Journal. Court officials in each district will have to decide whether to achieve the cuts by closing courts, furloughing employees, or layoffs.
The judiciary has estimated that the cuts could mean that 2,000 employees are laid off this year, or face furloughs for one day each pay period, which would be the equivalent of a 10 percent pay cut. Gibbons told the Judicial Conference that the measure approved to make the cuts "are unsustainable, difficult, and painful to implement."
"Indeed, the Judiciary cannot continue to operate at sequestration funding levels without seriously compromising the Constitutional mission of the federal courts," she said.
As the federal courts weighed cuts, the Judicial Conference accepted the results of a new judgeship survey that called for six new appellate judges and 85 more district judgeships to meet growing federal caseloads across the country. According to the AO, the committee that carried out the survey acknowledged that the current fiscal situation meant they'd have to prioritize which courts could get more judgeships.
The AO identified a slew of other problems posed by sequestration: fewer probation officers to supervise ex-offenders; a 20 percent cut in funding for drug testing and mental health treatment; case processing backlogs because of fewer clerk's office staff; a 30 percent cut in funding for court security systems; delays in payments to court-appointed criminal defense lawyers; and "deep cuts" to information technology programs.
"Reductions of this magnitude strike at the heart of our entire system of justice and spread throughout the country," Gibbons said. "The longer the sequestration stays in place, the more severe will be its impact on the courts and those who use them."
On March 20, Gibbons and U.S. District Senior Judge Thomas Hogan, director of the administrative office, are scheduled to testify before a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee.
A previous version of this article misstated Judge Julia Gibbons title.