During the partial shutdown of the federal government, which began December 22, 2018, the Judiciary has continued to operate by using court fee balances and other “no-year” funds. As of January 16, 2019, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) estimates that federal courts can sustain funded operations through January 25, 2019. Previously, the AO had estimated that Judiciary funding would be exhausted on January 18, resulting in federal courts relying on unpaid staff to perform critical operations.
The additional week of funding was mainly attributed to aggressive efforts to reduce expenditures. 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. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.
The Judiciary is continuing these cost-cutting efforts in the hopes of sustaining operations past January 25, but at some point in the near future, existing funds will run out if new appropriated funds do not become available. Should that occur, the Judiciary would operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act,1 which permits mission-critical work. This includes activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services. Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its mission-critical work.
In response to requests by the Department of Justice, some federal courts have issued orders suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party, while others have declined to do so. Such orders are published on court internet sites. Criminal cases are expected to proceed uninterrupted.
The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system remains in operation for electronic filing of documents, as does PACER, which enables the public to read court documents.
Courts have been encouraged to work with their district’s U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and Federal Protective Service staff to discuss service levels required to maintain court operations. The General Services Administration has begun to reduce operations and courts are working with their local building managers to mitigate the impact on services.
Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.