The federal shutdown is already beginning to affect the legal industry, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked judges to delay civil cases while the government is not funding the department.
The DOJ said in a release on Sept. 30 that “[c]ivil litigation will be curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.” This includes a requested delay many prominent cases, including its ongoing antitrust suit against the American Airlines-U.S. Airways merger. In many instances, judges honored the government’s request, including in all but one case in Manhattan.
In the airlines merger case, however, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied the government’s request, saying a “speedy disposition” of the case is necessary. Justice Department planners said that this denial, and any others it receives, will be considered “legal authorization to continue” with staffing at the minimum level based on the judge’s order.
The DOJ has published a contingency plan on the department’s website, highlighting which “essential” activities will continue into the future. Of the Justice Department’s 114,486 employees before the lapse, 96,300 will continue to work through the partial shutdown, with most of those employees deemed “necessary to protect life and property.”
Many government legal offices will continue to work for as long as they can. According to Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge John Bates says the federal court system can run for about two weeks without furloughing personnel by tapping into fees from filings and other sources. In addition, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a statement that the court will continue to hear and try cases.
However, for now, the DOJ will continue to run at partial capacity, with many lawyers being furloughed. In a Washington D.C. filing, the DOJ said, “This is creating difficulties for the department to perform the functions necessary to support its litigation efforts.” And until a budget is passed, civil litigation will continue to be continually more backed up.