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Federal courts will close Feb. 1 if government shutdown continues

Federal courts will shut down next week if the partial government shutdown continues.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC) estimated yesterday that the judiciary can sustain funded operations through Jan. 31. It also will continue to explore ways to conserve funds so it can continue paid operations through Feb. 1, according to a news release, but no further extensions will be possible.

The AOC had previously estimated exhausting available funds sometime between Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, the longest in U.S. history.

The full AOC release sheds some light on what happens next if the shutdown continues:

The extensions have been achieved through a multi-pronged strategy of deferring non-critical operating costs and utilizing court filing fees and other available balances. Most of the measures are temporary stopgaps, and the Judiciary will face many deferred payment obligations after the partial government shutdown ends.

In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.

Should funding run out before Congress enacts a new continuing resolution or full-year funding, the Judiciary would operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which permits mission critical work. This includes activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services. Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its mission critical work.

In response to requests by the Department of Justice, some federal courts have issued orders suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party, and others have declined to do so. Such orders are published on court internet sites. Courts will continue to conduct criminal trials.

The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system remains in operation for electronic filing of documents, as does PACER, which enables the public to read court documents.

Courts have been encouraged to work with their district’s U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and Federal Protective Service staff to discuss service levels required to maintain court operations. The General Services Administration has begun to reduce operations and courts are working with their local building managers to mitigate the impact on services.

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