This special Saturday post was inspired by the fine whine of Chief Justice John Roberts. His New Year’s Eve report – lamenting the sequester cuts that have damaged the federal judiciary – is deliciously ironic, given his key role in strengthening the right-wing special interest groups that hate government spending.
In his year-end review, he felt compelled to “dwell on the need to provide adequate funding to the judiciary.” He was upset about the sequester – oh, the injustice! – because the courts really really need that money. In his words, “the five percent across-the-board sequestration cut reduced judiciary funding by nearly $350 million in fiscal year 2013.”
It’s always a kick when ideological conservatives wake up and discover that their pet abstractions, like smaller government and fiscal austerity actually have real-life consequences in their own backyards. Roberts has suddenly discovered, again in his words, that “sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum.” What a revelation! For instance, he complains, “there are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of counsel to indignant criminal defendants.”
No kidding, Sherlock. The sequester’s horrific impact on federal public defenders has been chronicled for months. Back in August, two former federal judges (a Bush appointee and a Clinton appointee) told The Wall Street Journal:
“A decrease of nearly 10 percent in the federal public defender budget for 2013 has already resulted in layoffs and up to 20 days of furloughs in many federal defender offices. In a number of states, federal courts have been forced to delay criminal cases because of public defender furloughs and layoffs.
“In the most high-profile example, in New York, a federal judge was forced to delay the proceedings in the prosecution on terrorism charges of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith until 2014, because defense lawyers were required to take furloughs. Across the country—in California, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Utah—courts have been forced to delay criminal proceedings for the same reason.”
We can thank the sequester for that, as well as the other damage Roberts cited in his report: “There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, (thus) slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process. There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trial and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community.”
How amusing to hear Roberts fret about budget cuts, and beg for more bucks. But in truth, he has made his own bed. He and his fellow conservative justices, who comprise the court’s 5-4 majority, share ample blame for the current austerity climate in Washington.
Courtesy of the Citizens United ruling, they have radically empowered the conservative special interests – such as Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers front group. Thanks to Citizens United, those well-heeled groups spend virtually unlimited money to nudge Republican lawmakers ever rightward, and to successfully promote the misguided notion that the biggest problems we face as a nation are the deficit and the size of government. The across-the-board sequester cuts are the product of that climate.
Yet now we have Roberts jiggling his tin cup, eloquently whining about his own backyard: “The United States courts owe their preeminence in no small measure to statesmen who have looked past the politics of the moment and have supported a strong, independent, and impartial Judiciary as an essential element of just government and the rule of law.”
Touching, isn’t it? Reap the whirlwind, pal.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1