The federal judiciary now says it has enough money to continue normal operations during the government shutdown through at least October 17, two days later than previously announced.
The judiciary has used fee balances to stay fully funded during the shutdown. An updated budget analysis found those balances will last longer than expected because of "bare-bones level" spending by the courts this fiscal year, according to an October 9 memo from U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
"We will continue to examine all spending and fund balances, and you should continue to do your part by curtailing all non-essential spending, in hopes of extending our funding through October 18, 2013, and hence through the end of the current pay period," Bates wrote.
The two-day extension gives the courts some more breathing room as they wait for Congress and the White House to end a budget standoff that shutdown the government October 1. "Unfortunately, the lapse in appropriations appears to have no immediate end in sight," Bates wrote in the memo, which went out to all federal judges, circuit executives, district court executives and court clerks.
In the meantime, chief judges across the country are deciding what court operations must remain open even after the funds run out. Some have already decided that all employees are "essential" to support the work of Article III judges to resolve cases—the standard for that determination under the Anti-Deficiency Act.
Chief judges for the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit issued orders, posted online, stating that all employees will remain at work and operations will remain normal. Several district chief judges have made similar decisions and posted the orders online.
"During the current government shutdown, the court has a constitutional duty to continue to hear and resolve cases," Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in an October 8 order. "As judges rely on their personal staff, as well as officers and employees of the court, to perform functions necessary and essential to the continued resolution of cases, all such staff are hereby ordered to report to work during their normally scheduled hours."
Other judges are expected to declare some parts of their operations "non-essential," meaning the employees would be furloughed until the shutdown ends.
Bates and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts earlier issued guidance to the chief judges making these decisions. The A.O. is planning web or telephone conferences for October 15 and 16 for those judges who are still deciding. General counsel, human resources office, budget and other offices will be on hand to offer information.
As for the Administrative Office, Bates wrote that it plans to furlough "a substantial number" of staff and significantly reduce contractor services if Congress does not enact appropriations in time.
"The relevant statutory and regulatory provisions require that action in our judgment," Bates wrote. "We will continue to provide critical support and service to the courts, but in some areas it may not be at quite the level or speed that we would like or that you have come to expect."