Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

Sequestration to Solution

October 03, 2013

The term “budget sequestration” refers to automatic categorical federal spending cuts.  We are now seeing the immediate results of the sequestration enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that kicked in on March 1, 2013.  The federal judiciary has been amongst the hardest hit.  Operating on an annual, nationwide $7 billion appropriation, less than 0.02% of the total federal budget, the courts have long been stretched thin.  However, with the latest sequestration resulting in a loss of about $350 million, roughly five percent of its budget, the courts are at their breaking point.  The cuts have resulted in mandatory furloughs, hiring freezes, the elimination of numerous positions, training cutbacks, decreases in courthouse security, and major budget hits for indigent defense providers.

This dire situation even prompted some judicial vigilantism when a New York District Court judge took matters into his own hands.  In United States v. Laron Spicer, Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. held that although jurors merited protection due to a defendant gang member’s record of witness tampering, he could only afford to keep their names secret.  He refused to provide them with any additional safeguards, citing the multi-million dollar price tag associated with sequestering a jury.

Ironically, the small immediate savings to the federal government are likely to cost taxpayers far more in the future.  According to a recent Brennan Center for Justice report, cuts to federal defender services are resulting in increases in the number of cases assigned to private counsel, which is ultimately more expensive for taxpayers.

We at the BBA are very sensitive to this issue.  We have long been at the forefront of advocating for indigent defense services and fair judicial funding.  Recently, BBA President Paul Dacier and BBA representatives have been meeting with both state and federal court judges in Massachusetts to listen to their concerns.  Dacier, who frequently quotes articles XXIX and XXX of the Massachusetts Constitution, is a strong proponent of fair funding and honorable salaries for the judicial branch and the preservation of three co-equal branches of government.  We know it will be an uphill climb to accomplish these goals, but we are committed to finding solutions.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association