Two federal judges testified that a Judiciary budget of $8.6 billion is needed to keep pace with inflation and to pay for important new investments in courthouse security, IT modernization, and cybersecurity. They also requested staffing to address workload increases caused by issues outside the Judiciary’s control.
The request in discretionary Judiciary appropriations represents a 7.2 percent increase over the FY 2022 funding level the Judiciary assumed in constructing the request.
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Amy J. St. Eve, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, said the Judiciary is especially concerned about properly funding IT and cybersecurity needs.
“A combination of constant technical innovation and long-term underinvestment has left a number of our major systems and applications out of date and, thus, inefficient, difficult to maintain, and at regular risk of failure,” St. Eve said. “The second dynamic is security. … [E]ven our newer IT assets face security risks as the threat environment is constantly evolving and increasing in sophistication.”
Judge St. Eve said investment also is needed to protect the safety of courthouses and judges. This includes funding to protect courthouses from external attack, install or upgrade security systems and equipment, and reduce the online availability of personal information that might put judges and their families at risk.
She said the Judiciary also is facing significant costs related to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affecting Native American tribes in Oklahoma, and a sharp increase in probation needs caused by the First Step Act.
“I offer these two examples as particularly noteworthy illustrations of a larger truth, which is that our work is very heavily influenced by actions and decisions of others,” St. Eve said. “Significant new legal and legislative developments can greatly impact the courts, probation and pretrial offices, or federal defenders in ways that we cannot always anticipate and often cannot avoid.”
St. Eve testified on May 12 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Additional details are available in the Judiciary’s Fiscal Year 2023 Congressional Budget Summary (pdf).
Also testifying was U.S. District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Mauskopf outlined branch-wide priorities that the Administrative Office is supporting, including growing security needs for federal judges and U.S. court facilities, cybersecurity, sustaining an exemplary and inclusive workplace, and updating of case management technology. Mauskopf asked for $111.3 million for the AO, a 6.9 percent increase over FY 2022 assumptions.
In discussing judicial security, Mauskopf cited the murder of the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas at her family’s home in New Jersey, as well as a growing number of threats against judges and attacks against courthouses and courthouse security personnel.
Mauskopf called for passage of the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2021, named after Salas’s son, which would prohibit the dissemination of personally identifiable information that puts judges and their families at risk.
“Our constitutional system depends on judges who can make decisions without fear of reprisal or retribution,” Mauskopf said. “This is essential not just for the safety of judges and their families, but also to protect our democracy.”
Other testimony highlights
Judicial and Courthouse Security
The Court Security appropriation request for FY 2023 totals $786 million, an 11.5 percent increase above the assumed FY 2022 level. These resources include funding for contract Court Security Officers; security systems and equipment; comprehensive emergency management and security coordination activities; and the Judiciary Vulnerability Management Program, which, among other things, helps judges and their families reduce the online availability of personally identifiable information, like home addresses or phone numbers.
The Judiciary is seeking a total of $35 million to harden courthouse exteriors from external attacks. This includes small, targeted infrastructure fixes, such as break-resistant glass, magnetic door locks, and temporary fencing, that can help to better protect courthouse entrances, lobbies, and accessible portions of a building’s exterior.
IT and Cybersecurity Needs
The Judiciary has submitted supplemental requests to Congress to modernize information technology systems and improve cybersecurity. Those requests have not been funded, and St. Eve said portions of the desired funding are now being requested through the annual appropriations process.
“We have to modernize our IT systems in order to combat sophisticated cyber threats,” St. Eve said. “We also need to substantially upgrade or replace some of our oldest systems, including our probation case management system, our financial management system, and our debt collection system, to ensure necessary functionality and reduce security risks.”
Mauskopf added that maintaining a reliable funding stream for the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, which manages federal court records, and the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which gives the public read-only access to court documents, is critical for necessary upgrades to proceed.
“Based on extensive internal and external analyses of these systems, the AO has concluded that both CM/ECF and PACER are outdated, unsustainable, and require replacement,” Mauskopf testified. “As Congress considers legislation related to CM/ECF and PACER modernization, our primary concern is funding. … [I]t is critical that going forward there is a stable, predictable funding stream to ensure we can modernize and operate the systems.”
McGirt v. Oklahoma
A 2020 Supreme Court ruling led to the transfer of major crimes involving members of five Native American tribes from Oklahoma state courts to federal courts for the Eastern and Northern Districts of Oklahoma. The impact “has been nothing short of seismic,” St. Eve said.
The Department of Justice “estimates that the number of felony defendants charged in these two districts will increase from an average of fewer than 20 per year in the pre-McGirt era to more than 4,400 per year once McGirt is being fully implemented, an increase of 25,000 percent,” St. Eve said. “We need additional judges, more clerk’s office staff, more probation and pretrial services officers, more federal defenders, more jurors, more courtrooms, chambers, and other space to house these additional employees, and more security to protect the enhanced level of judicial activity.”
First Step Act
The legislation allows more individuals convicted of a federal offense to be released to the supervision of a probation officer, and on a faster timeline, than before the law was enacted. Passed in 2018, significant portions of the law are only now being implemented.
Regulations finalized in January “resulted in probation officers receiving more than 6,000 new cases, or more than 14 percent of an entire year’s worth of normal supervision workload, in a single day,” St. Eve said.
The Judiciary has requested an increase of $30 million to support an additional 564 full time positions, almost entirely in the area of probation and pretrial services.
Temporary District Judgeships
A request is pending in Congress to add two permanent judgeships to the courts of appeals and 77 additional judgeships in the district courts. The Judiciary also is seeking to make nine temporary judgeships permanent. Those requests have not been acted on, and the Judiciary is requesting one-year extensions to keep the temporary judgeships from expiring.
New Courthouse Construction
Mauskopf thanked the subcommittee for its strong support of new courthouse construction priorities in recent years. The Judicial Conference’s FY 2023 priorities are to secure the balance of funding needed to fully fund the space emergency project in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and for new courthouse projects in Hartford, Connecticut, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Cost Containment / Conclusion
St. Eve concluded her testimony by reaffirming the Judiciary’s commitment to containing costs. She noted that widespread experimentation to operate courts during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has the potential to be leveraged for future savings.
“If there is any silver lining to our pandemic experience, it is the learning opportunities that were presented by the necessity of finding new ways to do old things,” St. Eve said.
“We take very seriously our constitutional and statutory obligations, our independence, and our commitments to ensuring the fair and efficient administration of justice,” she added. “If we are to continue meeting those obligations and commitments, additional investments are required. But I assure you that we take just as seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources at our disposal.”