For the American People
One federal public defender, who also asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the current situation, offered this overview of what sequestration will mean to those who often need legal help and guidance the most. He wrote:
Sequestration has hit the truly indigent clients of the Federal Defender particularly hard. For example, Spanish-speaking families often write moving letters of support for relatives facing federal sentencing. Defenders have routinely paid to translate these letters translated into English, and these mitigation documents have played a central role in federal sentencing. With budget cuts, however, Defenders can no longer afford to pay outside interpreters the translation fees. As a result, Spanish-speaking families have effectively been silenced at sentencing, depriving indigent clients of critical evidence in mitigation.
The cuts have been particularly brutal for mentally-ill defendants. Many federal defendants suffer from a host of mental illnesses, and retained psychiatric evaluations are critical in determining competency, challenging allegations, and ensuring proper psychotropic medication is administered. Sequestration has devastated funds for these psychiatric experts. As a result, Defenders are forced to rely on their own lay knowledge, "talk" their client through appearances and pleas, and struggle with the risk of first submitting to an evaluation by government psychiatrists.
Even if you are not mentally ill, the sequester will impact you. If you are a creditor or a debtor and you want to resolve a bankruptcy in a timely fashion. If you are on federal probation and you can't get in to see your officer. If you are a state or local prosecutor and you no longer have federal funds to help you prosecute drug cases. If you are waiting for a federal drug test. If you are responsible for courthouse security or care about the safety of judges and court staff. If you want to go to trial in a civil case or are charged with a federal crime.
For Federal Law Enforcement
It's not easy on the other side of the fence, either. On the one hand, Congress and the Obama Administration want aggressive enforcement of criminal laws. On the other hand, they have been willing through the sequester to financially neuter the organizations directly responsible for such enforcement. National Public Radio's Carrie Johnson, in a smart report last week, revealed that Justice Department employees already are receiving their furlough notices. The FBI's abilities will be harmed, she reports. And then there is this:
At that meeting in Washington this week, state attorneys general worried about their share of the pie under a huge federal grant program. Janet Mills, the attorney general in Maine, was waving her hand with a question for Holder. "Could you please comment on the prospects for continued funding through the Byrne grants for drug enforcement and drug prosecutions and other criminal justice measures?" Mills asked. Holder said the states are right to worry about federal participation in drug task forces and other money the department sends to the states to help fight crime.
Crime -- and specifically border patrol work. Word in Arizona is that Operation Streamline, the longtime federal program of aggressive arrest and prosecution of unlawful immigrants, reportedly has been eased in the Ajo sector of the state as a result of the sequester -- evidently there isn't enough money to pay for the overtime for law enforcement officials. For his part, Attorney General Eric Holder told Senate Judiciary Committee members during his appearance last week:
As we speak, these cuts are already having a significant negative impact not just on Department employees, but on programs that could directly impact the safety of Americans across the country. Important law enforcement and litigation programs are being disrupted. Our capacity - to respond to crimes, investigate wrongdoing, and hold criminals accountable - has been reduced. And, despite our best efforts to limit the impact of sequestration, unless Congress quickly passes a balanced deficit reduction plan, the effects of these cuts - on our entire justice system, and on the American people - may be profound.
Beyond a reasonable doubt, the sequester is having a profound and pernicious effect on the government's ability to observe its constitutional commands -- and to provide justice to its citizens. That's why the members of the Judicial Conference have a difficult and delicate task this week. The judges and administrators must adequately express the scope of their concern, and effectively explain the impact the sequester will have on the judiciary, without offending the very politicians who control the federal judiciary's budget. It's not right. It's not fair. It's a terrible testament to judicial independence. But sadly it's the way the politics of law works in America today.