Federal courts could operate fully for at least three weeks in a federal government shutdown, according to officials in New Jersey and Washington.
The shutdown looms as Congress and President Donald Trump clashed over $5 billion in funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the country’s border with Mexico.
Courts in the District of New Jersey have funds in place to continue operating for at least three weeks, until January 11, 2019, said Chief Judge Jose Linares.
What’s unclear is which agency lawyers will be on the job, according to Linares. He expects criminal trials and Social Security appeals will go on as usual, but it’s unclear whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s legal staff on the civil side will remain on the job. The court may have to stay some civil trials as a result, Linares added.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Matthew Reilly, said his office was working on a contingency plan, but he did not elaborate.
Jackie Koszczuk, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said operating in a shutdown “would not be business as usual,” but that fees and appropriations balances could fund the courts for about three weeks.
“We would look for ways to constrain operations and defer expenses, such as travel and training,” said Koszczuk, in an email statement. “In general, courts would be asked to defer expenses where possible in order to conserve funds that could be needed if the lapse in appropriations goes beyond the estimated three weeks we can fund. It’s possible the guidance could change as circumstances require.”
In the most recent government shutdown, from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, 2013, the federal judiciary remained open and operational until a deal was reached, funded through a combination of court fees and long-term appropriations. As that shutdown proceeded, however, individual district and circuit courts made contingency plans for what to do when those funds were exhausted. Individual courts would have had to make their own decisions about staffing needs and employee furloughs.
Jordan Prince, special assistant to the district executive for the Southern District of New York, said the district, like New Jersey, could sustain until Jan. 11.