Are courts back to business as usual with temporary end to government shutdown?
The government shutdown has ended, at least until Feb. 15. That’s good news for the federal judiciary, but there are still some lasting effects in court cases, particularly in immigration courts where backlogs are intensifying.
After the shutdown began Dec. 22, the Department of Justice requested delays in pending civil cases and immigration courts canceled thousands of hearings. The federal judiciary continued most operations, however, by tapping court fees and other funding sources.
As a result of the temporary funding deal, federal courts’ funding sources will be replenished, including some funds tapped to keep courts operating during the shutdown, according to David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That means courts likely would have a new plan to temporarily continue operations if another shutdown happens Feb. 15.
But one federal judge warned that the shutdown is nonetheless affecting federal courts’ capability to attract workers, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. “People need assurances, and if we are going to have a shutdown every two years, working for the government is not providing it,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of the Western District of Texas.
The impact is particularly far-reaching in immigration courts, report the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and Philly.com. Immigration courts in detention centers continued to operate with unpaid judges during the shutdown, but other immigration court hearings were rescheduled. About 300 out of the nation’s nearly 400 immigration judges were furloughed.
“The shutdown has not only resulted in thousands of canceled court hearings,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “but also generated chaos for everyone involved in the immigration system.” Lawyers continued to file cases to meet filing deadlines, although courts weren’t open to accept them. Immigrants have shown up at courthouses, either because they were unaware of the cancellations or they feared they would be accused of skipping their hearings.
Immigrants who waited two, three or even four years for immigration hearings may have to wait two or three more years, according to Philly.com.
More than 800,000 immigration cases were pending when the shutdown began. Canceled hearings added an estimated 86,000 cases to the backlog, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Former Immigration Court Judge Jeff Chase, now in private law practice in New York City, summed up the immigration backlog this way in an interview with Philly.com: “This moves the court system closer to implosion,” he said.
There also were delays in some civil cases being handled by the DOJ. Now, its lawyers will have to file notices notifying federal courts that the government has reopened, the National Law Journal reports.
It’s possible that government lawyers would ask that the stays remain in place because of the possibility of a new shutdown Feb. 15. But that’s unlikely, according to Sasha Samberg-Champion, a former lawyer in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
“My guess is that government lawyers and the courts will proceed as though this were a long-term deal,” Samberg-Champion told the National Law Journal.
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