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Federal Public Defenders Could Face Major Budget Reduction

After a pair of budget bills passed last month in the House and Senate appropriations committees, the main policy-making body for U.S. federal courts warned lawmakers that the proposed spending levels for the judiciary could lead to hundreds of layoffs. The bills would fund the judiciary at levels hundreds of millions of dollars lower than the close to $9 billion the branch had requested for the 2024 fiscal year, Courthouse News Service reports. Under the House-side spending plan, the judicial branch would be allocated around $8.7 billion next year. The Senate’s proposed budget is even more restrictive, appropriating just about $8.6 billion.

The U.S. Judicial Conference urged lawmakers to ensure that the judiciary had enough resources to fund its operations. “[W]e are compelled to advise Congress of the detrimental impacts of the House and Senate funding levels on the administration of justice and the functioning of the federal courts if those funding levels were enacted into law,” wrote Judicial Conference budget chair Amy St. Eve and secretary Roslynn Mauskopf. Among the services hardest hit would be the federal public defender’s office. Such a budget shortfall would force the public defender’s office to downsize significantly, the judges cautioned. Congress’ proposed funding levels could also affect staff working at federal courts. The loss of court clerks would slow down vital court functions such as case intake, docketing and jury selection. Proposed budget shortfalls could also hamper court security. Although the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, the House is not scheduled to return from August recess until Sept. 12, giving Congress about three weeks to approve an appropriations bill.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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