Press Release

Welch Supports Public Defenders, Pushes for More Federal Public Defender Funding

Apr 4, 2024

BURLINGTON, VTU.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the Senate’s only former federal public defender, last month took to the Senate Floor to address the important role public defenders play in promoting the rule of law and supporting democracy and the Constitution. Senator Welch also celebrated the successful inclusion of additional funding to support the Federal Public Defender program in the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, which was passed by Congress in March. This funding will help the Federal Public Defenders avoid layoffs and end a hiring freeze. 

“Every day across the country, public defenders work to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and evenly to all, regardless of whether you’re the richest or the poorest person in the courtroom. And by doing so, public defenders safeguard our democratic values; providing a necessary check and balance in our judicial system,” said Senator Welch

“As the Senate’s only former public defender, this is very personal to me, but it really is vital to all of us. I spent some of my first years after law school serving as a public defender in White River Junction, Vermont…And I saw how absolutely important it is that every person who comes into the courtroom gets as good a lawyer as those who walk in with a high-priced attorney. The principles that public defenders represent are vital to what we believe in our Constitution. Fidelity to due process, fidelity to equal treatment under the law. Those have been engrained in our country since its’ founding…Public defenders are the direct descendants of those founding principles that underpin the rule of law so vital to our wellbeing,” continued Senator Welch

“The right to one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. That’s a confident country. It can live with the rule of law, and the rule of law requires representation. We’ll provide it, and we will make ourselves stronger for it,” Senator Welch concluded

Watch the Senator’s full remarks here: 

In March, Senator Welch led every Senate Judiciary Democrat in sending aletter 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 came as Federal Defenders faced a budget shortfall in the FY24 budget cycle caused by the Administrative Office’s accounting decisions.   

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, which funds the federal public defender program, in both chambers’ Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) funding bills.