Federal Courts Could Start Functioning Differently If The Shutdown Doesn't End Soon

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The partial government shutdown is now on day 25, and with such a wide reach into various federal agencies, you might be wondering — are federal courts shut down too? Despite the Justice Department being one of the agencies left unfunded, federal courthouses have actually continued to operate. But according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, they've only got nine days of funding left.

The Hill reported that federal courts initially estimated they had enough money to make it to Jan. 11. Those funds came from independent sources that don't rely on congressional appropriation, like court fees, according to the outlet. But through "aggressive efforts to reduce expenditures" officials pushed that date back to Jan. 18, and now to Jan. 25.

"In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts," a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts told The Hill. "Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status."

According to CNN, after funding runs out, federal courts will have to start furloughing some employees, and asking others to work without pay. Criminal cases will still proceed, though some federal courts have begun delaying civil cases, CNN reports.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the Justice Department has asked that courts postpone civil cases "for a limited period, subject to further consideration or until appropriated funds become available." The statement adds, "Civil litigation will be curtailed or postponed to the extent this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property."

The federal court system is a massive organization — in addition to the Supreme Court, it includes 13 circuit courts and 94 district courts spread out across the country. Last year, according to CNN, the federal court system received 282,936 civil cases and nearly a quarter of a million bankruptcy cases.

Among those set to be hit with furlough orders or forced to work unpaid are federal prosecutors, defense lawyers, investigators, and contractors who work within Justice Department facilities. And if you've been hit with federal jury summons — heads up, you're also probably not going to be compensated, according to Bloomberg Law.

Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told Bloomberg Law that putting Justice Department employees out of work is a serious problem for maintaining law and order, at least in a timely manner.

"If you’re not having investigators doing their regular work, they are both not going to find people violating the law, and they are not going to be able to actually indict or prosecute those people," she said. "I think you’re going to see a cascading effect of the shutdown that will impact public safety and the ability of folks accused of crimes to receive due process."

Already, some 400 immigration judges across the country have been put on furlough, according to Business Insider, exacerbating an already enormous backlog of asylum requests and unlawful entry cases. "We don't have time to adequately consider the cases that we do have," Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told NPR, "much less have to spend extra time to think about what we're going to do with all the cases that have to be rescheduled."