Justice Department lawyers are reviewing hundreds of civil cases to determine whether the department's continued participation in the proceedings—including attendance at hearings—accords with the law in the event the government shuts down Friday night.
DOJ lawyers today filed a notice in a Native American class action in Washington federal district court that said the government will participate in a fairness hearing scheduled for April 28 even if the government is not funded beyond April 8.
Justice lawyers said in the notice (PDF) in Keepseagle v. Vilsack that the department “reached the conclusion that its participation in the fairness hearing would be consistent with applicable law.”
Earlier this week, during a hearing in the Keepseagle case, DOJ attorney Joshua Gardner of the Civil Division said he wanted to talk about a “sensitive” topic in chambers with Judge Emmett Sullivan and the plaintiffs’ lawyers. The attorneys in the case, including lead plaintiffs’ counsel Joseph Sellers of Washington’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, met for about 10 minutes. The lawyers did not discuss the potential shutdown in open court.
DOJ officials said this week that in the event of a shutdown, the department’s national security, law enforcement and prison operations will continue in the event of a government shutdown. FBI personnel will continue to work and “the department will be ready to respond to any and all contingencies that might arise during this time,” DOJ said in a statement.
But when it comes to civil cases, the scenario’s different. DOJ officials said the government “will be forced to stop or significantly curtail an array of different activities and services that will have a national impact, including most civil litigation, community outreach to victims of crime, and the processing of grants.”
In a memo published yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said the department’s contingency plan for the potential lapse in funding includes an examination of the agency functions that are exempt from a furlough. Holder said DOJ lawyers and staff will receive notice from their managers Friday about the designation of position and status.
“Your contributions touch people’s lives in so many significant ways, and I want you to know how deeply I appreciate your dedication, your expertise, and your commitment to the Justice mission,” Holder wrote in the memo.
Yesterday, the federal judiciary said there should be no visible disruption in the courts for about two weeks. The judiciary said it has enough in fees—which are outside the appropriations process—to keep courts functioning for two weeks if Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement on the budget.
President Obama is scheduled to meet with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House at 1 p.m. today to continue ongoing budget negotiations.