Federal courts open during government shutdown

January 22, 2018

With Congress failing to pass a budget measure by the deadline of midnight Saturday, and the federal government beginning the workweek amid a shutdown, federal judiciary officials sought to assure the public they are still open – for now.

“We’re operating as normal,” said Alison Chestovich, chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. “Anything scheduled as far as the court is concerned is still on the schedule.”

Courts can continue operations for approximately three weeks, through Feb. 9. Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) also will remain in operation for e-filing documents.

“That’s our system,” said Robert Trgovich, clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. “Everything we do is available. We’re operating normally.”

Charles Hall, public affairs specialist for the administrative office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C., said in addition to court fees, the other money being used during this time is known as “no-year funding,” which comes without a specific year deadline for spending.

“So, we have some cushion,” he said.

In cases where an attorney from an executive branch agency is not working because of the shutdown, hearing and filing dates may be rescheduled.

“I have not been informed (by) other government agencies that could be affected that anything needs to be rescheduled because of their situation, but that’s, I suppose, a possibility,” said Chestovich.

If the shutdown were to continue past Feb. 9 and exhaust the federal judiciary’s resources, it would then operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which allows work to continue during a lapse in appropriations if it is necessary to support the exercise of Article III judicial powers.

Hall said this provision also governs the other agencies in Washington, D.C., too. He said initial proceedings and judges’ salaries would continue in that case.

“You have to determine what functions are essential to the operating of the government,” he said.

Under this scenario, each court and federal defender’s office would determine the staffing resources necessary to support such work. 

“It has (never) in previous shutdowns … come to that, fortunately, for us,” said Chestovich.

The most recent government shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 to 17, 2013. Trgovich said during his time as clerk, the court had never had to determine essential staff, but he had experienced such tough choices when he worked in the executive branch.

“Eventually, the failure to fund the courts will cause us to face the shutdown question, but we’re a little different in the sense that we have these other revenue sources or funds available to us that do allow us to continue to operate, where executive branch agencies don’t really have that,” he said.

Hall said during the 2013 shutdown, his office came within days of running out of money.

“We actually just managed to avoid any of the kind of cutback activities,” he said. “My recollection is we had less than a week of revenue by the time the shutdown ended. We were just sort of getting into the hard details.”




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