Welch is Senate’s Only Former Public Defender
WASHINGTON – In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) voiced concerns about proposed cuts to the federal defender budget, underscoring the vital role public defenders play in maintaining core principles of the judicial system and stressing how slashing the budget for this critical program would threaten legal protections for people in the judicial system.
“I am extremely concerned about the proposed cuts to the federal defender budget. We cannot—we cannot—have a judicial system that doesn’t have very competent public defenders to represent people and uphold the integrity of the judicial system,” said Senator Welch. “So, my hope is colleagues on the Committee will be very supportive of making certain that the federal defender budget is absolutely solid to make certain that the integrity of the judicial process—with vigorous prosecution and vigorous defense—is upheld.”
Prior to his roles in Congress, Senator Welch served as a public defender, practicing in White River Junction, Vermont. He is currently the only member in the Senate with public defender experience.
The Federal Public and Community Defenders recently warned that Congress’s current spending proposals would result in a budget shortfall of over $100 million, threatening to reduce the Federal Defenders’ workforce by over 10%, at a time when the agency is already understaffed. The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Vermont recently informed Sen. Welch that in Vermont, as across the United States, over 80% of defendants in federal court require assigned counsel. The anticipated budget shortfall will require the Federal Defenders to lay off staff and withdraw from many cases, potentially depriving defendants of their constitutionally guaranteed right to effective counsel.
Watch a clip of Senator Welch’s remarks here
To watch the full hearing, click here.