How Federal Courts Are Affected by the Government Shutdown

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capitol hill dc government shutdownBecause Washington was unable to craft a budget agreement by September 30, 850,000 federal employees are forced to stay home beginning October 1.

As of October 1, the first day of the new fiscal year, the federal government is officially on partial shutdown. Although the impact will be wide-ranging throughout the United States, the severity of the cuts will depend on the services affected.  Social Security, Medicare benefits and mail will not be affected, but national parks have been shuttered, food safety inspections have been restricted, Department of Defense civilian employees have been furloughed and all other “non-essential” federal employees are temporarily out of work including the Census Bureau, Department of Education and National Safety Transportation Highway Administration, among others.

Shutdown’s Impact on Federal Courts

According to the Office of Management and Budget, tasked with overseeing an “orderly” shutdown, federal courts would continue operating normally for about 10 business days or until about October 11. If the shutdown is extended, the judiciary will likely be forced to begin furloughs of non-essential employees. However, cases would continue to be heard despite delays and modified schedules.

The US Supreme Court is scheduled to begin its next term Monday October 7, and as in previous federal shutdowns, it is expected to continue to operate normally.

The Realities of the Federal Government Shutdown on the Courts – The worst is yet to come

For Lawyers and their clients, the real impact will be felt after funding reserves are exhausted on the 11th, after which Federal Judges will be able continue to work but each court, district, bankruptcy and appellate would be required to decide how to downsize.  No function or staff will be spared cuts – furloughs of clerks, IT teams, human resources and security will all be considered.

The U.S. Department of Justice lawyers have asked judges to put thousands of civil cases on hold pending the outcome of budget negotiations.  U.S. attorney General Eric Holder Jr. indicated the department may be forced to put investigators and prosecutors on furlough until funds are restored.

Trial dates for civil cases are being rescheduled and judges are being forced to make case by case decisions about whether to ask government lawyers to continue to work for no pay.

Each court must construct its own plan and determine who and what is to be considered “essential”.  It is generally believed that essential will include staff and resources necessary to prosecute criminal cases.

Existing Budget Cuts are Already Straining Already Scarce Resources

Some courts already reeling from budget cuts this instituted earlier this year may declare their remaining personnel essential and therefore exempt from the shutdown.

Other services impacted by the shutdown include:

Homeland Security – most employees will report to work including Coast Guard, Transportation Security administration officers, Secret Service Staff and other enforcement agents and officers.

Military – will stay on duty and the 1,400,000 active personnel will continue to be paid.  About half of the Defense Department’s civilian employees were furloughed but have been recalled. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that “most [Department of Defense] civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week.”

Under Secretary of Defense Robert F. Hale said close to 90% of the 350,000 members of the civilian workforce will be called back.

Veterans Services – The Department of Veterans Affairs will remain virtually untouched as its budget is approved annually in advance.

Mail – will continue as usual.

Case Funding Inc. will be closely watching the Shutdown proceedings and their affect on Federal Courts.