Federal courts have avoided shutdown squeeze, so far

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The federal government shutdown is into its third week, with no obvious end in sight.

The federal judicial system, a co-equal branch of government, is also dependent on funding by Congress.

But so far, the federal courts haven’t felt the pinch.

The government shut down began shortly before Christmas, after President Trump insisted on more border wall funding. The effects are starting to ripple out.

While there’s growing unease around the country, we’re told it’s still business as usual for the Northern District of Alabama’s court employees, which includes workers at the Huntsville Federal Courthouse. But, that could change soon.

There are more than 30,000 workers in the federal judiciary, including about 140 in the Northern District Court of Alabama. There are also bankruptcy court workers, probation personnel and more.

So far, the court system has been able to pay employees through collected fees and shifting of existing funds.

But, federal court administrators say that money won’t last beyond January 18.

“During the partial shutdown of the federal government, which began Dec. 22, 2018, the Judiciary has continued to operate by using court fee balances and other “no-year” funds,” U.S. Court.gov reported Monday. “The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has revised its original estimate and now is working toward the goal of sustaining paid operations through Jan. 18, 2019.”

Federal judges protected by the constitution will continue to be paid, but key personnel would face working without pay until the budget impasse is resolved.

Court officials in Birmingham tell us no court dockets have been changed so far, but if the shutdown continues, judges will have to make a decision about furloughing personnel.

The Northern District of Alabama sees 2,000 new civil cases filed every year and has a full criminal docket.

Corrected on 1/10/19 to clarify federal courts role, funding. 

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