Press Release

Senator Welch Leads Senate Judiciary Democrats in Urging Federal Judiciary to Request Appropriate Funding in Next Budget Request for Federal Public Defenders to Avoid Continued Shortfall

Mar 1, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate’s only former Public Defender, led every Senate Judiciary Democrat in sending a letter to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts urging the office to give appropriate consideration to the funding of the Federal Public Defender program in the Office’s upcoming budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2025. The letter comes as Federal Defenders face a budget shortfall in the FY24 budget cycle caused by the Administrative Office’s accounting decisions. 

“Federal Public and Community Defenders are fundamental to the fair and efficient functioning of federal courts across the country. Nearly nine in 10 individuals charged with a federal crime cannot afford legal representation and thus are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Preserving the public defender workforce is essential to our justice system. Because the Constitution requires courts to appoint counsel for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer, if there are fewer public defenders available, courts must refer more cases to private attorneys on the Criminal Justice Act panel. Although panel attorneys are dedicated to the public defense function, sending excess cases to the panel often incurs higher costs to the taxpayer,” wrote the Senators

“We write to you to request the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Judicial Conference ensure that the decisions that led to the FY24 budget requests are not repeated for FY25. We urge you to give appropriate weight to funding for Defender Services in your budgetary request that will, at a bare minimum, provide enough resources to ensure federal public defender programs are fully staffed throughout FY25,” the Senators concluded. 

The letter was signed by every Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), and Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), along with Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). 

Senator Welch has voiced his strong opposition to the budget shortfall of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts’ own making.  Senator Welch has continuously warned that failing to restore the budget for this critical program will threaten the constitutional right to an effective lawyer, as well as the integrity of the judicial system, while increasing costs for taxpayers. 

In October, 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. In a Judiciary Committee Meeting the same month, Senator Welch stressed the importance of bipartisan collaboration to ensure that the federal public defender budget remains adequately funded. 

Read the letter here.