The Supreme Court and the solicitor general's office are ready for opening day of the court's new term on Monday October 7, in spite of the government shutdown. Both institutions have been operating as closely to normal as possible, with the aim of keeping oral arguments on schedule.A top Justice Department lawyer said Friday that the solicitor general's office is "pretty empty" at times, with some support staff furloughed or coming in sporadically. But the lawyers there who are scheduled to argue during the week will do so, clad in their swallowtail morning coats as usual. Lawyers from the office -- including SG Donald Verrilli Jr. himself -- are slated to appear in four of the six cases set for argument next week.
The high court itself has announced it will "continue to conduct its normal operations" at least through October 11, drawing from available funds as has the rest of the federal judiciary. None of the nearly 500 court employees has been furloughed.
It is unclear what will happen if the shutdown lingers beyond October 11, especially if it continues beyond October 16, the final day of the court's first cycle of arguments.
Moot courts, in which lawyers rehearse their arguments, have gone on as usual for the most part in the SG's office. Other preparation and briefing has continued as well, benefiting from the fact that much of it was done before the shutdown began October 1.
A powerful culture of serving the Supreme Court's needs is driving the office's effort to keep running. The Justice Department source said the office takes its "cue from the court," and if the justices view it as their constitutional duty to continue hearing cases, the SG's office will do its best to accommodate.
The last time the federal government shut down, in late 1995 and early 1996, Drew Days III was U.S. solicitor general. Days recalls answering the office phone himself because support staff was furloughed. "One of my most memorable experiences as a 'receptionist' was having to redirect a call from a person seeking to speak to the surgeon general," said Days, now an emeritus professor at Yale Law School. "I did my best and was very thankful that no medical emergency was involved." The shutdown then happened to occur when the court was not hearing arguments.