March 01, 2013

ABA president, other leaders warn about budget cuts

ABA President Laurel G. Bellows joined with American Association for Justice President Alice McLarty and Mary Massaron Ross, president of DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar, in a statement warning about the impact that mandatory funding cuts for 2013, known as sequestration, will have on access to justice.    

President Obama signed the sequestration order March 1 after Congress was unable to enact a multi-year plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Some programs are exempt from the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, but approximately 1,200 budget accounts are affected, resulting in a 9.4 percent cut in non-exempt defense discretionary funding and an 8.2 percent decrease in non-exempt non-defense programs, including the federal courts.    

“Severe and indiscriminate federal court budget reductions through sequestration combined with chronically anemic state funding for courts threaten access to justice for every American and put court petitioners, staff and judge in physical jeopardy,” according to the statement. The bar leaders emphasized that “the federal judiciary and every individual and business that depends on our courts will bear the burden for congressional deadlock through costly delays.”

The leaders also noted that sequestration will leave federal court security positions unfunded at a time when the nation has seen a spate of gun violence on courthouse grounds in Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

In addition, they said, state courts have endured years of withering cuts despite overwhelming caseloads, and projected shortfalls from sequestration will likely mean even fewer resources for state judicial systems.    

“Access to justice is a promise that would be too costly for our country to deny,” they concluded.

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