The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
It’s so quiet and cool on the porch oh so far from Washington that if you could avoid television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, you might be able to forget that the federal government is shut down and people are hurting as a result.
I find it easy to avoid newspapers, since I haven’t read one in print since 1994. It is getting easier and easier to avoid television, since anything of import they might sensationalize you can find just as easily on the Web. I used to listen to a lot of public radio, but even that has lost my interest in recent years, in part because of the sensationalism and all the attempts to convince religious conservatives they are fair and balanced just like Fox News.
News on the Web is more essential these days, especially for stories you would never see on television or hear about on the radio.
Take this story I picked up this morning from Politico thanks to the RSS feed on my front page. Members of the third branch of government, the Judiciary, are so sick of the tea party and their representatives in Congress that one federal judge is now openly blogging that “it is time to tell Congress to go to hell.”
And he is a Republican appointed by George H.W. Bush.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said, suggesting that judges could rule that all court system employees are “essential” under federal law, a move that would force Congress to fund their salaries. “Congress could go batshit and the Judiciary and Congress could have it out.”
That’s a boxing match I would like to see.
Others are now saying that House Speaker John Boehner’s only choice is to throw the tea party overboard.
That’s kind of a funny image that would make for a great editorial cartoon. Throwing the tea party supported members of Congress into Boston Harbor along with their stupid tea. I say let them drink salt water.
Of course down here in Alabamaland, we are represented by such lousy lawyers like Senator Jeffry Beauregard Sessions who actually has the gall to claim that the costs of running the court system are not essential and any claims to hardship on the part of the courts are simply “exaggerated.”
Never mind that even before the shutdown, cuts have caused delays in criminal and civil cases since the judiciary lost about 2,700 support staff over the past two years and funding for drug testing and electronic monitoring of pre-trial detainees had also been slashed by 20 percent. Public defense attorneys were already under orders to take about 15 days of unpaid furlough in the past year.
Sequestration cut $350 million, about 5 percent, from the judiciary’s budget in the past fiscal year.
While federal judges are effectively exempt from furlough because the Constitution says their salaries — currently $174,000 for district court judges — cannot be reduced, for the past two weeks the federal courts have essentially operated on fumes, using funds from filing fees and so-called no-year appropriations to pay salaries and keep the lights on. Court budget projections show that money will run out on Thursday or Friday of this week, so there will be no way to pay employees, contractors or utilities until Congress acts.
The House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, called the impact of the cuts and the shutdown on the courts “grave and growing each day,” while Hank Johnson of Georgia said, “Justice delayed is often justice denied.”
Several judges said the courts are getting squeezed because of what could amount to a flaw in the Constitution: the judiciary is supposed to be an equal branch of government, but unlike the executive and legislative branches, it lacks any real leverage over its own budget.
Appeals Court Judge Julia Gibbons, who oversees the judiciary branch’s budget committee, said the judicial branch of government lacks some of the options other government agencies have to deal with funding cuts.
“We have no control over our own workload,” she said. “We don’t operate any optional programs or activities that we can eliminate or sharply reduce. Everything we do is either constitutionally or statutorily mandated.”
While the Justice Department says FBI agents and federal prosecutors have been deemed essential and are working during the shutdown, if the government shutdown continues, even criminal prosecutions could suffer. The FBI has said if sequester cuts continue at the current level, FBI offices will close for about 10 days next year with agents on unpaid furlough.
Perhaps that is OK with these criminals in Congress. Perhaps the Justice Department should start taking a closer look at senators such as Jeff Sessions, who seem to think government itself is not essential.
© 2013 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.