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Updated: Federal courts have tacked on a week to the amount of time they hope to continue paid operations during the government shutdown. But they are still making plans for scaled-down operations after the money is expected to run out.
Federal courts initially said they were using fees and other funding sources to continue most operations through about Jan. 11. In a press release on Monday, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said it was now working toward a goal of sustaining paid operations through Jan. 18.
To achieve the goal, courts have been asked to delay or defer expenses that aren’t critical to their mission. Those expenses may include new hires, certain contracts and travel that is unrelated to cases. But judiciary employees reporting to work are all currently working at full pay.
The question still looms: What happens when the money runs out?
Nonessential court workers will likely be sent home, while others will be working if it’s necessary “to support the exercise of Article III judicial powers,” according to a provision of the federal Antideficiency Act.
That means judges and key staff members will have to work without pay to handle criminal cases and other matters that are deemed essential.
Also working will be essential probation and pretrial services officers who are needed to resolve cases, according to a Dec. 10 congressional report.
Most federal prosecutors and staff members for criminal cases also are continuing to work, as are Department of Justice lawyers working on civil cases that haven’t been delayed. Jurors will be empaneled, but they won’t be paid right away.
Meanwhile, federal prison guards are on the job, working without pay, the Washington Post reports.
Already many proceedings in immigration courts have been delayed, although immigration courts in detention centers continue to operate.
The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump refused to sign a budget bill that did not include $5 billion in border wall funding. If the shutdown extends beyond Jan. 11, it will set a record.
Individual courts and judges will decide how to proceed, courts spokesperson David Sellers told Bloomberg. The courts will have to coordinate with the U.S. Marshals Service to deliver defendants to court and U.S. Attorney’s offices to make sure prosecutors are available.
Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois told Bloomberg that his court will operate on “triage” if the shutdown continues after Jan. 11. “This is not the way to run a court system,” he said.
Already federal courts “have issued a hodgepodge of conflicting orders” on suspensions of civil cases involving the federal government, according to the New York Times. Some courts have issued blanket orders for such suspensions. Individual judges have issued differing decisions.
A federal judge in San Francisco has refused to delay a Monday trial that seeks to block a citizenship question on the 2020 census. But DOJ lawyers won a delay in a suit claiming Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., improperly profits from business with foreign countries.