In his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” But if the federal government shutdown continues for another week, the entire federal judiciary system could run out of funding and cease normal function.
The U.S. courts posted a statement before the shutdown began announcing that “the federal Judiciary will remain open for business,” but only “for approximately 10 business days.” The courts’ status will be reassessed “on or around October 15, 2013,” the statement promises. A message on the U.S. Supreme Court’s website notes that the high court “will continue to conduct its normal operations through October 11,” and will provide a further update should “the lapse of appropriations” continue past that date.
According to the New York Times, once the courts’ funds are depleted, the impact — especially on lower courts — could be “disastrous,” including “extensive furloughing of staff, and reductions in probation, pretrial and courthouse security services.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, also partially paralyzed by the shutdown, has been forced to ask for delays in a wide array of civil cases. A major Federal Trade Commission anti-trust case, at least one Commodity Futures Trading Commission anti-competitive policy case, and a case brought by an injured citizen against a U.S. Postal Service driver have all been put on hold until the shutdown ends.
A September 12 letter to President Obama, penned by Judicial Conference Secretary Judge John D. Bates, warned that even last year’s post-sequestration levels of judiciary funding were having, “a devastating impact on court operations nationwide.”
The DOJ currently notes on its home page that “due to the lapse in government funding,” the department’s website will not be routinely updated and information submitted online may not be processed.