Supreme Court justices warn Congress about sequestration effects

Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer testified that the automatic budget cuts could result in delays, layoffs and errors in federal courts

The White House and Congress have already engaged in public squabbling over sequestration, and now the judiciary is getting in on the action.

Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer testified before Congress on Thursday about the impact that the automatic government budget cuts could have on the country’s courtrooms, Thomson Reuters reports.

The high court itself is asking for nearly $86.5 million for the next fiscal year, up almost $3 million from its current funding level. At the same time, the current budget cuts will result in a 5 percent drop in funding for federal courts from fiscal year 2012, taking total funding down to $6.6 billion. This could spell layoffs or furloughs for courts nationwide, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Justice Kennedy testified that decreases in spending could affect programs that supervise convicted criminals, such as mental health services and drug testing. He also noted that the budget cuts could delay bankruptcy cases—potentially hurting the economy—and force courts to pay private lawyers to represent defendants in lieu of federal public defenders.

Breyer agreed, noting that if unqualified counsel make mistakes at trial, it could potentially result in costly post-trial litigation. Such errors would cost taxpayers more than if a defendant had “a decent lawyer in the first place,” Breyer said.

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Alanna Byrne

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