Updated 1:21 p.m.
Federal courts officials have asked Congress for emergency funding, saying the judiciary does not have the budget flexibility to absorb the large mandatory budget cuts that have caused furloughs in the nation's federal public defender and court offices.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Judicial Conference said the courts need an emergency appropriation of $73 million—$41 million for federal public defenders and $32 million for court operations. The money would save 550 jobs in public defender and clerk offices, and prevent 24,000 furlough days for 5,000 employees, the letter states.
The judicial conference request also connected the emergency funding to the Boston Marathon bombing, saying $5 million for projected representation costs "for high-threat trials, including high-threat cases in New York and Boston" that federal public defenders would have been able to absorb had the sequester not happened.
The courts want to replace part of the $350 million overall cut to the federal courts budget as part of sequestration earlier this year, according to the letter from U.S. Circuit Judge Julia Gibbons, the chair of the judicial conference, and former U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
"The judiciary is confronting an unprecedented financial crisis that could seriously compromise the Constitutional mission of the United States courts," the letter states. "We believe our supplemental request meets the threshold for receiving an emergency designation."
The federal courts, the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies have been sounding the alarm about the impact of sequestration cuts since last year. Since the cuts went into effect, federal public defenders offices and clerk of courts have announced furloughs for employees.
Congress has so far restored funding cuts that affected air travel, and allowed the Justice Department to transfer funds to avoid furloughs for the prison officers, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, prosecutors and other officials. So far, the courts have gotten no such consideration.
"Unlike some executive branch entities, the judiciary has little flexibility to move funds between appropriation accounts to lessen the effect of sequestration," the letter states.
The judicial conference says $13 million of the funding would go directly to restoring public safety, because it will bring back half of the sequestration cuts for drug testing, substance abuse and mental health treatment of federal defendants and offenders. The request includes $28 million to avoid deferring for three weeks payments to private attorneys representing indigent defendants.
In an April 17 statement, Chief Judge William Traxler, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, chairman of the judicial conference’s executive committee, said the judiciary is committed to doing its part to reduce the fiscal deficit our country faces. But the budget cuts impact the court’s responsibilities under the Constitution, he said.
"This happens when we cannot afford to fulfill the Sixth Amendment right to representation for indigents charged with crimes," Traxler said. "The predictable result is that criminal prosecutions will slow and our legal system will not operate as efficiently. This will cost us all in many different ways."