Federal courts remain open during government shutdown

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) With more days looming that federal employees must work without pay, the shutdown, so far, doesn’t seem to be affecting federal courts in the Western District of Texas, but that could change.

Waco’s two courts, the U.S. Magistrate Court and the U.S. District Court have published dockets that run through February, but in a message sent to all federal courts on Dec. 22, 2018, the “Judiciary remains open and can continue operations for approximately three weeks, through Jan. 11, 2019, by using court fee balances and other funds not dependent on a new appropriation.

But after that, it’s up in the air.

Waco’s two courts have dockets heavy in illegal alien issues, with a significant portion of each docket dealing with what the law calls “illegal re-entries,” those illegal aliens who’ve been sent home once, then re-entered and were arrested again.

If the courts can’t operate because of budget issues, then those very people that the administration is trying to rid the country of will be staying here waiting for the courts to deal with their cases.

A spokesman in the U.S. District Clerk’s office in San Antonio, the office that oversees the district clerk in Waco, says a shutdown is not in the offing.

“No. That’s not true here,” he said, “in fact it’s going the other way.”

But the court’s said: “If the shutdown were to continue past three weeks (Jan. 11) and exhaust the federal Judiciary’s resources, the courts 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.

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

The issue raises concern that the legal system will be significantly hobbled if the standoff is not resolved soon.

“Judges and court officials around the country are bracing for the likelihood that the federal judiciary will be unable to maintain its current operations within the next two weeks, once it exhausts the money it has been relying on since the shutdown began last month,” a recent story published in the New York Times said.

Courts have already been cutting down on expenses like travel and new hiring and court-appointed lawyers who represent indigent defendants have been working without pay since late December, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, which provides support for the court system.

“If the judiciary runs out of money, courts around the country will pare down their work to “mission critical” operations,” officials said.

Thousands of court employees will not be paid or could simply be furloughed, more civil cases could grind to a halt and federal court jurors may have to wait until the shutdown is over to be paid.

The Times story points out: “With roughly 33,000 employees nationwide and annual federal funding of under $8 billion, the judiciary makes up a tiny part of the federal budget.

“In recent years, it has accounted for only about two-tenths of 1 percent of annual federal spending.”

The U.S. Constitution says in the event of a shutdown, “Supreme Court justices, appeals court judges and district judges would continue to be paid, according to the Congressional Research Service