Reporting Pat Kessler
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The unprecedented letter from all 87 U.S. Federal District Court chief judges warns that the upcoming sequester cuts are “devastating.”
In Minnesota, Chief Judge Michael Davis says the budget stalemate not only threatens court staffing, but also raises serious concerns about constitutional justice.
“No one in their right mind in Congress thought that would happen because they thought everybody would blink – and people didn’t blink,” Davis said.
Davis is preparing for budget cuts between 15 – 23 percent, but it could get even worse. He also has contingency plans for a government shutdown, which some members of Congress are threatening.
“No money. No money. No money for the courts,” he said.
The federal court cuts would hit every part of Minnesota’s federal system: probation officers, pretrial services, security and the public defender system.
Katherian Roe is Minnesota’s chief public defender, representing low-income clients in complex federal cases.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Roe said. “You can figure that something has to give.”
Roe’s preparing to lay off up to nine lawyers and staff – 45 percent of the people who work in her office.
“And with sequestration it could come to a point where it would be fair for the public to lack confidence in the concept of equal justice for all,” she said.
The entire budget for all courts – from the Supreme Court on down – is $7 billion. Davis says it’s not a small amount, but it’s a tiny fraction of the total federal budget.
“We’re two-tenths of one penny of the national budget,” Davis said.
Davis is trying to head off the layoffs and cutbacks before they occur. He’s asked the entire Minnesota congressional delegation as a group to meet with him in late August so they understand what he says are the “dire consequences” if the sequester is allowed to happen.
As a federal judge, Davis’ actions are unusual since they often avoid getting involved in politics. He’s known for his no-nonsense style, and his lack of hyperbole.
The budget cuts are set to go into effect October 1.