Supreme Court expresses concern over sequester

Appearing for a yearly budget hearing before the Congress, two U.S. Supreme Court Justices voiced concern over automatic budget cuts that hit the federal government earlier this month, arguing it will have a negative impact on the Judicial Branch.

"Over the long term, particularly for the courts as a whole and for our court, it is unsustainable," said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"What is there to cut?" asked Justice Stephen Breyer rhetorically, as he talked about the Court's press office, travel budget and money for information technology services, where Breyer said cuts have already been made.

The Supreme Court would lose just over $4 million this year from the sequester cuts to its budget of about $81 million.

What is interesting about the Court is that it has been very frugal in recent years, asking several times for an actual reduction in its budget, rather than the stock increases that other departments urge the Congress to adopt.

"We've managed to cut three percent; I think that's pretty good really," as Justice Breyer referenced the Court's budget request for 2014.

"We applaud that and thank you for that," said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), who was chairing the hearing that dealt with the Supreme Court budget.

"We recognize that the sequester, an additional five percent cut is going to have a negative impact," Crenshaw told the Justices.

In 2012, the Court asked for a 2.8% cut in its budget; last year the request was a slight increase.

The Justices didn't focus solely on their own budget issues, arguing the sequester will hurt federal courts at all levels.

"We have to have a capital structure and infrastructure, a functioning system to handle this," Justice Kennedy told Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY).

As for how this might get resolved, Kennedy said at some point, reductions in judicial services might be noticed.

"The Courts do not have the habit of creating crises in order to obtain public attention," Kennedy said, "but at some point if we start dismissing criminal prosecutions, this is dangerous to the rule of law."

Like all other federal agencies, the Supreme Court's budget request for next year will work its way through the House and Senate in coming months.

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