Minnesota's chief federal judge: More cuts crippling

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2013 - 9:44 PM

Further sequestration cuts would have devastating consequences, Minnesota’s chief federal judge warned congressional delegation.

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“Do we really want justice when the courthouse closes?” U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked during Wednesday’s meeting with representatives of the state’s congressional delegation at the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis. The mandated budget cuts have been devastating to the nation’s judiciary, he said.

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Minnesota’s top federal judge on Wednesday implored the state’s congressional delegation to reconsider a second round of “drastic and draconian” automatic spending cuts that he said could result in layoffs, furloughs and cripple the judiciary.

“Rest assured, the judge will be on the bench … and the building will look nice … but the infrastructure will crumble,” said Michael Davis, chief judge of the District of Minnesota, in a rare 90-minute presentation to delegation staffers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, the only lawmaker present, called Congress’ standoff over the debt ceiling that led to the cuts “legislative malpractice.”

Davis said the across-the-board spending cuts of the so-called sequestration — expected to result in $1.2 trillion over nine years — have had a particularly devastating effect on the federal judiciary. It’s a critical branch of government, he added, but with a budget of nearly $7 billion, represents just 0.02 percent of the nation’s $3.7 trillion budget.

The $350 million cuts to the federal courts amounted to a $1.1 million cut locally, Davis said. Further cuts due Oct. 1 for fiscal 2014 could trigger lengthy furloughs and shutter Minnesota’s four federal courthouses at least one day a week.

“Not only in this district, but across the whole judiciary, the lights are gonna be out.” Davis said. “Do we really want justice when the courthouse closes?”

‘Bad policy’

Ellison, addressing the group that also included federal judges and staff, called sequestration “bad policy that was never supposed to be enacted.”

Ellison said he has spent the summer speaking to groups affected by sequestration cuts, ranging from Head Start to the Minnesota National Guard. None was hit harder than the federal court.

“You should not be cutting the third branch of government to the point where it can’t function.” he said.

Spokespeople for the Republican congress members did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Staffers didn’t ask questions during the presentation, which also included the potential effects of cuts on the U.S. Federal Defender’s Office, which represents 90 percent of federal court defendants. Losing 10 percent of their budget, as is expected in 2014, will result in lengthy furloughs that don’t pay for themselves when defendants sit in custody longer, transferring costs to the U.S. marshals that, said Federal Defender Katherian Roe.

Despite appearances at the State Fair by many of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, Davis said he wasn’t deterred that next to none attended Wednesday’s breakfast.

“You can see that our delegation takes it seriously because they have representatives here, and the ones that didn’t sent me letters saying they want to meet with me personally at another time, and I will be meeting with them,” Davis said.

 

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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