When I first saw the headline yesterday at ThinkProgress (“Chief Justice Warns Sequestration Cuts Already Threatening Public Safety”), I passed over the story without much of a second thought. Yes, of course, John Roberts is right, the mindless ratcheting down of appropriations for the federal court system via sequestration is stupid, as is the very idea of acheiving public-sector austerity in a sluggish economic environment via inherently mindless across-the-board cuts. Here’s how the Chief Justice put it:
Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum. There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process. There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trial and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community. There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants, which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike. There is less funding for security guards at federal courthouses, placing judges, court personnel, and the public at greater risk of harm.
Yep, all true, and all pretty typical of how sequestration operates. It’s also true that Roberts’ political homeland, the Republican Party, is currently divided between those pleased to have permanently sealed in sequester levels for many non-defense appropriations categories in the recent budget deals, and those furious that indiscriminate cuts didn’t go much deeper and wider.
It’s easy to get used to stupidity in politics and government, but Roberts’ report is a reminder that we need to revisit yesterday’s stupid decisions now and then, before they become part of Washington’s permanent landscape.