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Courts’ work will continue amid government shutdown

By: Ross Chandler//September 28, 2023//

Even if the U.S. government shuts down over the weekend, cases will still be heard next week at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, above, and the four federal judicial districts covering North Carolina and South Carolina. (Associated Press file)

Courts’ work will continue amid government shutdown

By: Ross Chandler//September 28, 2023//

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Lawyers with federal court cases calendared for next week won’t get a respite even if the U.S. government shuts down.

“They’ve got court on Monday. They should be there,” Katherine Hord Simon, clerk for the Western District of North Carolina, said. “The main thing for us is we will be operating business as usual.”

Two sources of money will keep the courts going for at least the short term: fees and “non-year” funds, which roll over from the fiscal year 2023 budget, Peter A. Moore Jr., clerk for the Eastern District of North Carolina, explained. The court’s national administrative office estimates that the money could last three to four weeks.

Said Simon, “If we have a lapse in funding [for fiscal 2024], we can use that funding to continue to operate without violating the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

But after those three to four weeks, a shutdown’s effects might be felt.

“At that point, we won’t be able to perform nonessential duties such as training, … but the main business of the court will continue,” John S. Brubaker, clerk for the Middle District of North Carolina, said.

Courts have constitutionally mandated duties that must be carried out. Among them are the right to a speedy trial and the right to counsel, Moore said, “the different things along those lines that the courts have to be involved in.”

But contingency plans are still being made.

“Our plan is, if it does happen, how do we react as a district, not knowing if it will or will not happen,” Moore said. “It’s just being prepared.”

In the Middle District, Brubaker said, “We have a plan that will evaluate the work of the court at that time to see what functions we have that are essential and what functions that are not.”

Nonessential functions — which could include pay for court staffers — could stop.

The possibility of a government shutdown comes at midnight Saturday, the end of fiscal 2023. So far, Congress has been unable to pass budget bills for fiscal 2024, which begins at one second past midnight.

The Senate advanced a bipartisan stopgap spending plan Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. However, deep political divisions in the House make the plan’s passage there difficult.

The courts were not affected by the last government shutdown, which ran from December 2018 to January 2019.

“Thankfully, we had funds to cover our operations for four weeks or whatever that time frame was,” Brubaker said.

Efforts to reach a representative for the District of South Carolina were unsuccessful. •

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