It’s not like this is news we haven’t heard before — that the federal courts were already limping along if not crippled by the sequester when the shutdown began.
But Dahlia Lithwick at Slate does a great job here illustrating just how dire the situation is, pointing out that the courts are just eking by with reduced operating hours, slashes to security, cuts to the federal defender corps and to personnel charged with monitoring released prisoners. And still new business keeps coming through the courthouse doors:
The courts don’t get to pick their cases. Cases come to them. And the list of critically important litigation in which stays have been requested or delays granted range from a trial over the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a major Federal Trade Commission case to the terror trial of accused former al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to a major Freedom of Information Act suit. Whether or not the courts are officially shuttered next week, the federal justice system is in deep and worsening trouble unless we correct for the mistakes of the past year. Things have become so dire, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf wrote on his blog last week, that “it is time to tell Congress to go to hell.” Pro tip? Judges don’t usually talk like that.
And to those who depict furloughed court employees as simply dispensable government workers, there’s this to ponder:
The federal court system is not just people—although real people are being hammered in the court system, as they are throughout the federal government. The problem is that these people are the country’s justice delivery system. And when their work is hampered, delayed, or impaired, it’s not just “trials” that grind to a halt. It’s justice. What happens in the courts may not be as compelling as what happens on the Panda Cam or as spiritually uplifting as the national parks, but our federal justice system is the embodiment of the rule of law, particularly at those moments when the wheels have come off the rest of the government.