Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 7, 2011


Page 1


Shutdown Would Not Close U.S. Courts, Officials Say


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


A U.S. government shutdown would have no immediate effect on federal courts, officials said yesterday.

“If Congress is unable to agree on the continued funding of government before April 8th, the Judiciary is prepared to use non-appropriated fees to keep the courts running for up to two weeks,” according to a notice on the federal judiciary website.

“Once that funding is exhausted, however, the federal court system faces serious disruptions,” the notice said. “Following their own contingency plans, federal courts would limit operation to essential activities.”

The notice continued:

“For the federal courts, this would mean limiting activities to those functions necessary and essential to continue the resolution of cases. All other personnel services not related to performance of Article III functions would be suspended.

The jury system would operate as necessary, although payments to jurors would be deferred. Attorneys and essential support staff in federal defender offices and court-appointed counsel would continue to provide defense services as needed, but again, payments would be deferred. Courts would determine the number of probation office staff needed to maintain service to the courts and the safety of the community.”

David Madden, spokesman for federal courts within the Ninth Circuit, said that the courts were watching developments closely, and that contingency planning would accelerate in the event that the congressional budget stalemate is not resolved by today.

He assured, however, that “the Ninth Circuit, the federal district courts, and the bankruptcy courts will continue to operate.”

Congressional leaders reported last night that they were making progress in talks to cut spending and avert a partial shutdown that the White House warned would hit U.S. combat troops abroad and taxpayer refunds from the IRS at home. President Obama asked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to join him at the White House for an evening meeting. He acted after deciding “not enough progress had been made,” said spokesman Jay Carney.

Determined to avoid political blame if a shutdown occurs, Boehner said the House would vote today on a one-week stopgap bill to keep the government open while cutting $12 billion in spending and providing the Pentagon with enough money to stay open until the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

“I think this is the responsible thing to do for the U.S. Congress, and I would hope the Senate can pass it and the president can sign it into law,” he said. The president and Senate Democrats rejected the approach.

Unlike the courts, a number of executive branch agencies would have to close in whole or in part, officials said.

They said military personnel at home and abroad would receive one week’s pay instead of two in their next checks. Among those affected would be troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region around Libya.

Tax audits would be suspended—welcome news to some, no doubt—but there were unhappy tidings for others. Income tax returns, required to be filed by April 18, would pile up at the IRS, and refunds would be delayed as a result.

National parks would close, as would the Smithsonian Institution and its world-class collection of museums clustered along the National Mall within sight of the Capitol. Officials were less clear about the Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled for this weekend in Washington.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said he was unable to predict what the impact would be on preparations for the shuttle Endeavor’s flight on April 29, or Atlantis’ trip into space on June 28.

As for the broader talks, it appeared progress had been made both on spending cuts demanded by Republicans and on a series of unrelated provisions they attached to legislation that was approved almost six weeks ago.

A House-passed measure called for $61 billion in cuts, and until recently, the two sides had been working on a framework for $33 billion. Boehner pronounced that insufficient on Tuesday, and floated a $40 billion figure instead.

Democrats disputed any suggestion that they had acceded to that, but some, speaking privately, conceded they were willing to go higher than $33 billion, based on the make-up of the cuts included.


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