WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting today, Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) stressed the importance of bipartisan collaboration to ensure that the federal public defender budget remains adequately funded.
“I have circulated a letter, that all of our Democratic colleagues have signed, trying to correct a mistake that was made in the budget that resulted in a significant cut to the public defense bar. If you talk to prosecutors, they are the biggest advocates for having good public defenders. If you talk to fiscal conservatives, they much appreciate paying less to give good defense than if you have to have assigned counsel,” said Sen. Welch during the meeting. “So, I’m hopeful that not only will we continue to see diversification on the bench, but that we’ll get bipartisan support to make certain that there isn’t an accidental cut to the federal public defender budget.”
Earlier this month, Senator Welch led 22 of his colleagues, including every Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat, in sending a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders emphasizing the importance of bipartisan collaboration to safeguard our Federal Defenders’ resources. The Senators urged that adequate funding be provided for Defender Services in both chambers’ Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) legislation or through supplemental appropriations legislation Congress may consider.
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. According to the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Vermont, nearly 90% of defendants in federal court in Vermont—as across the United States—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.
Senator Welch, the Senate’s only former Public Defender, has voiced his strong opposition to proposed cuts to the federal defender budget, warning that cutting the budget for this critical program would threaten the constitutional right to an effective lawyer, as well as the integrity of the judicial system.
Watch a clip of Senator Welch’s remarks here.