Calling the lack of a budget a "dire situation," the chairman of the Judicial Conference executive committee warned today that a government shutdown could bring litigation to a halt with delayed jury trials, limited pre-trial services and deferred payments to court-appointed lawyers.
Addressing reporters following a Judicial Conference meeting, Chief Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said essential personnel would be asked to work without pay during a government shutdown.
“We’ve been there before,” Sentelle said. “It’s not something you want to ask your employees to do.”
The chairwoman of the conference’s budget committee, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, presented an oral report to the committee that addressed four areas of concern, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement.
The topics included the judiciary’s concern that its views will not be presented when the executive and legislative branches negotiate the budget and the possibility of a "sudden and severe" disruption of services, according to the statement. (Last March, Gibbons testified on Capitol Hill about funding for the judiciary and challenges facing federal courts.)
The effects of a government shutdown would be more noticeable on federal district courts than on appellate courts, Sentelle said. Generally, he said, appellate courts act without the same time sensitivity that drives trial court litigation.
In federal trial courts, where litigation more resembles the pace of a basketball game than baseball, Sentelle said, a government shutdown would do the greatest harm to pre-trial services. He noted the consequences on scheduling of detention hearings before magistrate judges and the ability to pay court-appointed lawyers.
Asked about pending legislation that would install an inspector general to oversee the federal judiciary, Sentelle said the Judicial Conference has not changed its position. The conference has strongly opposed an inspector general.
Nine members of Congress made brief remarks to the conference, Sentelle said, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole attended the meeting, which is closed to the public. Sentelle said the conference “took no controversial actions today.”