Federal Judiciary officials have asked Congress for $8.12 billion to fund judicial branch operations for fiscal year 2022. The request includes funding to keep pace with inflationary and other budget adjustments, and to pay for program increases, including projected workload changes, courthouse security, cybersecurity, and new magistrate judges.
The request in discretionary appropriations represents an overall $403 million increase, or 5.2 percent, above the FY 2021 enacted level.
“I ask that you consider the constitutional and statutory responsibilities with which the judiciary is charged,” Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, said in testimony. “In return, I commit to you that we will continue to be effective and cost-conscious stewards of the funds Congress entrusts to us.”
Lungstrum was joined by Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in testifying on Feb. 24 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
In her testimony, Mauskopf outlined branch-wide priorities that the Administrative Office is supporting, including employee diversity and inclusion, workplace conduct protections, and growing judicial security needs for federal judges and U.S. court facilities. Mauskopf asked for $100.3 million for the AO, a 4.9 percent increase.
“I echo Judge Lungstrum’s gratitude to the subcommittee for its generous and consistent support of the Judiciary,” Mauskopf testified. “By providing the resources needed by the AO and the rest of the branch, you are ensuring that the judiciary can continue to perform its vital role as intended and required.”
Lungstrum noted that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted federal court operations, including widespread telework for employees, postponed jury trials, increased use of video and teleconferencing, and new approaches for probation and pretrial supervision.
“The judicial branch’s more than 33,000 dedicated professionals – like public and private sector workers everywhere – continue to perform their duties admirably during this period of great uncertainty,” Lungstrum said. “But we anticipate a backlog of cases will flood the federal court system once vaccination becomes widespread and society begins a return to normalcy.”
Lungstrum said the courts will need supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2021, to pay for information technology expenses and for enhanced cleaning of court space to reduce infection risk for litigants and court personnel.
Other testimony highlights:
- Increased staffing for federal defenders. The Judiciary is requesting $12 million to hire 118 full-time employees, to address staffing shortages identified by work measurement tools. An additional $9 million is for staff to address unexpected surges in workload, and $1.5 million would fund a diversity fellowship program in federal defender offices.
- Expected resurgence in caseloads. The pandemic resulted in double-digit declines in 2020 in criminal filings (-11 percent) and bankruptcy filings (-12 percent). “The Judiciary projects that criminal and bankruptcy workload will rebound in 2021, with each increasing nearly 4 percent,” Lungstrum said. Court-appointed defense representations in the Judiciary’s defender services program are also expected to increase.
- Court Security. The request includes $682 million to fund nearly 4,600 court security officers protecting courthouses; payments to the Federal Protective Service for the patrol and protection of courthouse perimeters; and security systems and equipment, including funding for ongoing security improvements.
- Cost containment. The Judiciary is streamlining the administration of tens of millions of bankruptcy notices – nearly 67 million in 2020. Electronic noticing to creditors and debtors resulted in $9 million in cost avoidance in FY 2020 alone.
- Magistrate judgeships. The Judiciary is seeking funding for six additional full-time magistrate judges and one part-time magistrate judge, for courts in Camden, New Jersey; Corpus Christi, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Pierre, South Dakota; Waco, Texas; St. George, Utah; and the District of Columbia (part-time).
- Cybersecurity. The Judiciary has requested funding to renew firewall licenses and to enhance cybersecurity in federal defender IT systems.
- Mandatory pay for judges. In addition to the discretionary budget, the Judiciary requested a total of $757 million in mandatory funds for judges’ salaries and retirement funds.
Mauskopf said the AO has made great progress since 2018 in protecting Judiciary employees from inappropriate workplace conduct. “We have made substantial improvements that have real impacts on our employees and continue to do so with a number of new achievements in the last year,” she said.
Mauskopf reported that every circuit and nearly 80 percent of the districts have now adopted a model Employment Dispute Resolution plan that clearly defines misconduct. The Judiciary also offers flexible avenues for reporting complaints, and the Judicial Conference approved amendments to the Code of Conduct for employees of federal public defender organizations that mirror misconduct-related changes made to the Codes of Conduct for judges and court employees in 2019.
She also said the AO has strengthened efforts to expand workplace diversity, hiring a diversity and inclusion officer. The Facilities and Security Office also has established five summer internships that focus recruitment on historically black colleges.
“I am committed to recruiting, hiring, and retaining a highly qualified and diverse workforce,” Mauskopf said, “and ensuring that our workplace is welcoming and respectful to all.”
Mauskopf said greater protections are needed for judges, citing the murder last July of the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas at their home in New Jersey.
The Judiciary supports legislation that would prohibit the resale or online posting of personally identifiable information that might reveal where federal judges live, and the creation of a resource to monitor the online availability of personal information and associated threats. Mauskopf noted that Congress approved funding late last year for the U.S. Marshals Service to modernize home-security systems for federal judges.
Draft legislation to prevent the spread of online information that endangers judges has bipartisan support, she added. “We are encouraged by this progress and hope to build on it as we work to achieve the enactment of our remaining priorities,” Mauskopf said.
In addition to the murder of Judge Salas’s son, the Judiciary also has identified a need for additional security resources following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. These measures include targeted infrastructure fixes, such as “riot glass” and magnetic door locks, that can better protect federal courthouses against large groups seeking unlawful entry.
Mauskopf noted that these requirements were developed too recently to be included in the Judiciary’s FY 2022 budget request, but she offered to work with Congress to address additional security needs.
“These disquieting and, in some cases, tragic events … have sharpened the Judicial Conference’s focus on the need to make significant and urgent improvements to the full range of judicial security activities,” Mauskopf said.
Lungstrum and Mauskopf both stressed the importance of the General Services Administration receiving funding to address Judiciary space needs. FY 2022 courthouse construction priorities include a new courthouse in Puerto Rico, which would address a Judicial Conference declared space emergency due to seismic vulnerabilities. The Judiciary also is requesting the remaining funding for courthouse projects in Hartford, Connecticut, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. GSA receives funding in the same appropriations subcommittee as the Judiciary.