Forced budget cuts have taken a toll on taxpayer-financed federal public defenders, and some judges fear the U.S. court system could get mired in gridlock if Congress doesn’t act to restore money by the new spending year, reports the Wilmington, Del., News-Journal. U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Theodore McKee said it “is not hyperbole” to describe the situation as a looming constitutional crisis in criminal representation for indigent people.
The problem is automatic spending cuts in legal services and other federal programs triggered when Congress failed to reach a budget agreement this year and dire budget projections if a deal isn’t reached this fall. McKee said federal courts in the Delaware area may have to close one day a week if the cuts continue. Delaware and other federal courts already limit criminal matters on Friday to meet sequester cuts. U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., has scheduled a congressional hearing Tuesday to discuss the issue.