Trial, Bankruptcy Delays: Justices Warn of Long-Term Budget Cuts

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, right, talks with Rep. Ander Crenshaw before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 14, 2013 in Washington.

It’s not only juries that get sequestered.

The automatic budget cuts working their way through the federal government will undermine the work of the judiciary if left in place for more than a few months, according to two Supreme Court justices testifying on Capitol Hill today.

“If it’s for any long term, it will be inconsistent with the constitutional obligation of the Congress to fund the courts,” Justice Anthony Kennedy told a House appropriations subcommittee.

The cuts amount to about 5 percent of the court’s budget, or $3.7 million, for the rest of the fiscal year.

The Supreme Court could absorb the cuts temporarily through furloughs and shorter work days for some employees, Kennedy said, yet over the longer term, “it is simply unsustainable.”

Litigants at the lower court level would feel the effects of long-term sequestration, Justice Stephen Breyer said, raising the specter of delays forcing dismissal of some criminal prosecutions.

“Yes, trials would be delayed,” Breyer said. “Yes, bankruptcies would be delayed.”

The high court submitted a 2014 budget request of $86 million, a $3 million increase attributable entirely to work in restoring the building’s façade, part of which fell off the structure several years ago. The court’s request for salaries and expenses represents a $435,000 cut from 2013.

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