In a letter to Capitol Hill, Justice at Stake and 26 other nonpartisan organizations asked Congress on Tuesday to make a priority of restoring adequate funding for the federal courts.
The groups all described themselves as caring deeply about civil and human rights, “which are threatened by the current lack of resources provided to the federal courts,” according to the letter.
Under the across-the-board, automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, about $350 million has been cut from federal court funding, the letter said. The Federal Defender system, which provides legal representation for indigent defendants, seems to have been particularly hard hit.
“These cuts threaten to erode several core constitutional values, including the right to a jury trial and due process, and threaten to make illusory key statutory rights, such as the right to a speedy trial,” the groups warned. The letter continued:
“In a year when this nation marks the 50th anniversary of both Gideon v. Wainwright and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we are reminded of the role that courts have played, and can continue to play, in the struggle for equality and justice. However, the courts cannot play this role if they lack the necessary resources. Whether it be addressing the judicial vacancy crisis, acting on the nonpartisan Judicial Conference’s recommendations to increase the number of authorized federal judgeships, or passing a budget that provides desperately needed funding to our nation’s federal courts, we ask for your help to protect this critical branch of government. We make this request not for the judiciary, but for its ultimate beneficiaries — the people who depend upon it for the protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Signers of the JAS-led letter included these JAS partner organizations: the Constitution Project, Lambda Legal, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the National Bar Association. Also signing were American Association of University Women, American Constitution Society for Law & Policy, Alliance for Justice, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Earthjustice, Human Rights Campaign, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Association of Social Workers, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Congress of American Indians, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, National Native American Bar Association, National Organization for Women, National Women’s Law Center, Native American Rights Fund, and People for the American Way Foundation.
A JAS press release about the letter is available here.