News: Press Releases

(WASHINGTON) – Yesterday, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Democratic Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a forum on the impact of the government shutdown and sequestration on the provision of justice in the United States. Participants in the forum were: James R. Silkenat, President of the American Bar Association; the Honorable W. Royal Furgeson, Jr., a retired Federal District Judge and Dean of UNT Dallas College of Law; A. J. Kramer, the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia; Robert Kengle, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Don Saunders, the Vice President of Civil Legal Services with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association; Nan Aron, the President of the Alliance for Justice; Scott Lilly, a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress; and Diane Moyer, a Board Member of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Policy Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Following the forum, Rep. Conyers issued the following statement:

“As we enter week two of the government shutdown, after more than six months of indiscriminate spending cuts imposed by sequestration, we find our Nation’s justice system to be in a perilous place. The financial impact of these events on the Department of Justice and the federal courts is grave and growing each day. The Justice Department’s budget was reduced by more than $1.6 billion in the last year alone, the FBI has not been able to train new agents, and funding for critical grant programs, such as those for Violence Against Women, has been curtailed. It is for these reasons that I convened a Judiciary Committee forum examining the impact of the twin crises of sequestration and the government shutdown on the provision of justice,” said Conyers.

“At the forum, we heard testimony from expert panelists that highlighted how damaging these fiscal cuts have been on the Judiciary. James Silkenat, the President of the American Bar Association, stated that our independent court system is close to collapse because of the cumulative impact of the sequester and the government shutdown. Among other concerns he cited, the federal judiciary has had to cutback essential programs that oversee individuals in the community awaiting trial and monitor those who already served their time and subsequently are released from prison on parole, potentially jeopardizing public safety.

“The Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia, A. J. Kramer, noted how ironic it was that on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright - guaranteeing the right to counsel to indigent criminal defendants - we are not living up to this central constitutional commitment. The public defenders program has already suffered a 10% cut in critical funding, leading to 17,000 furlough days for counsels and a likely uptick in wrongful convictions. And, with 70% of their staff furloughed, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is unable to carry out its legal duties to combat discrimination, protect voting rights, and ensure fair housing access.

“Indigent defendants, federal judges, and the entirety of the federal judiciary did nothing to create this crisis, yet they must bear the brunt of the sequester and government shutdown on their budgets and constitutional obligations. Our courts, as a co-equal branch of government that is essential to our system of checks and balances, deserve better. After suffering through a manufactured crisis for far too long, we must act now to rescind the sequester and re-open the government.”