ABA president, others express concern over shutdown's effects on judiciary

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 9, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- American Bar Association President James Silkenat is calling on members of Congress to send a budget to the President.

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- American Bar Association President James Silkenat is calling on members of Congress to send a budget to the President.

Silkenat, a partner in the New York office of Sullivan & Worcester, took office in August.

In a statement last week, Silkenat called the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, a "historic failure that imperils justice."

"The political brinksmanship that brought our government to a standstill reflects the same intransigence and unwillingness to compromise that imposed sequestration on our national government and hardships on many who contract with, work for or receive certain nonentitlement benefits from the federal government," he said.

"Federal courts already face staff reductions and programmatic cuts that threaten public safety. The failure to reach accord on a continuing resolution to fund the government has also scuttled both chambers attempts to add extra funding to pay for indigent defense representation."

He added, "Congress has practically abdicated its constitutional responsibility to provide a budget for the government. It is time to end the scorched earth tactics and send a budget to the President."

Silkenat, who argues that citizens' access to justice will increasingly be in jeopardy, testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday about the effects of the shutdown on the judiciary.

He, along with other lawyers and former judges, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the shutdown could have lingering effects.

Add to that the budget cuts being forced on the judiciary as a result of the sequestration, the lawyers told the House panel.

Sequestration refers to a set of automatic federal spending cuts put into law by the Budget Control Act, signed by President Barack Obama in August 2011. The legislation raised the debt ceiling and was intended to put pressure on Congress to come up with a longer term plan for deficit reduction.

The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, which were triggered March 1, will be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. The cuts are set to end in 2021.

According to The Blog of Legal Times, others testifying Tuesday included: retired U.S. District Judge W. Royal Furgeson Jr.; A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender for the District of Columbia; Robert Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Don Saunders, vice president of civil legal services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Last week, the U.S. Judicial Conference said federal courts will remain open for business for about 10 business days.

"On or around Oct. 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance," according to its website.

"All proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised. Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with courts."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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