Story highlights

The letter by 87 federal judges was sent Tuesday to both chambers of Congress

Judges say nearly $350 million was cut from the judiciary

Washington CNN —  

Judges from 49 states are beseeching Congress to avoid another round of sequestration cuts, saying they “would directly affect our ability to carry out our constitutional and statutory duties.”

The letter by 87 federal judges was sent Tuesday to both chambers of Congress, which are in recess until September. It included chief justices from every state but Nevada.

In the letter, the judges said nearly $350 million was cut from the judiciary, resulting in slower court proceedings, a reduction in probationary officer staffing and cuts to security measures in courthouses nationwide.

“But the most significant impact of budget cuts and sequestration thus far has been the reduction in funding for Defender Services.” they wrote, citing their obligation under the Sixth Amendment to provide counsel for criminal defendants who lack the resources to pay such services on their own.

Public defenders “have always run on modest budgets while providing high quality legal services”, the judges argued.

Cutbacks to staffing have cost the court system more money because salaried attorneys are being substituted with CJA panel attorneys, who charge at an hourly rate, they said.

While spending bills have cleared the appropriations committees in both the House and the Senate, the increases to the judiciary budgets are minimal in both plans.

Congress is gearing up for a fiscal showdown upon its return in September, and there’s no guarantee that an increase to the judiciary budget would make it into a final version of spending bill.