The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has been preparing for a financial storm. In the past several months, the court has stopped filling open clerk’s office jobs, dropped maintenance contracts, stopped some routine purchases and even drafted plans for shuttering the district’s two courthouses.

The outstanding question for that district and others around the country, as well as U.S. attorney’s offices, legal services groups and all types of federal contractors is this: How big of a financial tempest could strike on March 1, when $85 billion in automatic and arbitrary congressional budget cuts are set to kick in?

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