by E. Sebastian Arduengo
One of the more immediate effects of the so-called federal budget sequestration will be its impact on the federal judiciary.
The entire judicial branch takes up substantially less than one percent of the federal budget, but because of the sequester the judiciary is facing a funding cut of 5.3 percent,or about $323 million below the funding level of 2012. And, unlike other parts of government, much judicial spending is mandatory. The Constitution mandates that judges be paid, and the government has to make its rent payments. That means that cuts to the judiciary will fall overwhelmingly on court services and support personnel, the very people who make the court system function. Up to 4.400 staff could be laid off (over 1,000 people already have been), including law clerks who help judges manage enormous case loads, court security officers, and probation officers. Funding would also be cut for necessary security equipment. Those metal detectors at the entrance to every federal courthouse aren’t just for show – In 2010 a gunman opened fire at the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse in Las Vegas, killing a security officer before he himself was gunned down.
Cuts would also go to the heart of the justice system’s constitutional obligations. For example, many federal courts would not be able to pay for jurors or commissioners, with the result that nearly all jury trials would be suspended. The effect of this would be profound because all criminal trials require a jury and the parties demand a jury in most civil matters.