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Shutdown Averted, But Do Courts Need a Sequestration Showdown?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 18, 2013 12:55 PM

The shutdown is no more. Funding will be restored, federal workers will return to work, and courts won't have to try to balance their constitutional duties with the Anti-Deficiency Act's minimal staffing standards. This is all good news, yet the brilliant judge who suggested a showdown with Congress that would make them go "bats**t" is apparently depressed.

Why? Though he only posted a copy of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," as a means of expressing himself, our best guess is that it has something to do with sequestration funding, which was crippling the courts even before the government-wide shutdown. And post-shutdown, with sequestration funding still crushing the court's budget, is a showdown still called for?

But They Got $51 Million More in the Budget Deal!

Yep. As reported by The Huffington Post, the court will get an additional $51 million in funding in the new budget, $25 million of which will go towards the federal public defenders' offices that were crippled by furloughs and delayed compensation earlier this year. (No word on how this specifically affects the hourly rate cuts and deferred compensation, but may are calling this a "lifeline" for federal defenders and CJA panel attorneys.)

$350 Million Minus $51 Million Equals ...

That's fabulous news, right? Funding has been restored and the budget just got upped to $6.7 billion! Except, that neglects the fact that the court's budget was cut $350 million due to sequestration. Plus, the funding is only guaranteed until the continuing resolution ends on January 15, 2014. Who knows what happens after that.

Cut the Fat, Right?

Maybe. Perhaps the system didn't really need those thirty-one federal court facilities. What else did the court cut due to sequestration? According to Slate, an estimated 5,400 court employees would have to be laid off or furloughed, funding for the federal defender's office was cut by 8 percent (leading to delayed trials and increased incarceration costs), and approximately 1,100 former federal prisoners are not being properly supervised.

Some of those casualties will be averted by the $51 million in restored funding. Others will be saved by cancelled judicial conferences and closed excess courthouse capacity, which some argue were built in an excessive and wasteful manner pre-sequestration.

Still, if you're on the other side, and you think that the $299 million in cuts that weren't restored were necessary, or if you are worried about post-Jan. 15th cuts due to Congress' prioritizing of defense spending over domestic spending, a "showdown" with Congress may be called for, either now, or when the next shutdown and/or debt crisis hits in January.

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