Should partisan politicial fighting lead to a shutdown of the federal government, as many expect, Chicago’s chief federal district judge says the courts will remain open – for now.
U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo, who serves as chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which operates the federal courthouses in Chicago and Rockford, said the district court has enough funding in reserve to maintain current operations levels for “about 3 weeks.”
He estimated the courts could remain open and fully functional “until about Feb. 8 or 9.”
He said access to court documents through the federal courts’ online document filing and viewing system, known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, also should remain largely unaffected by a government shutdown, at least in the short term.
At that point, however, Castillo said the district court would need to “give priority to criminal cases involving people already in custody,” and could begin moving to shut down trials involving civil litigation. He said other steps could also be taken to conserve funding and to keep the courthouse doors open.
“Hopefully, Congress comes to their senses before then,” Castillo said.
The shutdown is looming amid the latest showdown between Senate Democrats and President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. While Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have passed a measure to keep federal agencies and departments fully funded, the measure’s chances appear less bright in the U.S. Senate.
There, Democrats, the minority party in the chamber, have indicated a willingness to use Senate rules to not allow the spending measure to be called for a vote, as they attempt to force action from Trump and the Republican congressional majority on several items, including legislation intended to provide legal protections for so-called “Dreamers,” or immigrants to the U.S. claimed to have been brought illegally to the U.S. as children, but who received protection under the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative launched by the Obama administration.
Republicans have claimed the DACA orders were illegal and unconstitutional, and the Trump administration has sought to rollback those orders. A federal district court judge blocked the president, for now, but the administration has appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Democrats and some Republicans have urged Congress to codify the DACA orders in legislation, ending questions over the legality of the program.
To date, no deal has been reached among the White House, congressional Republicans and Democrats to move the matter forward.
Senate leadership had hoped to bring the short-term government funding measure to a vote Friday, but as of mid-Friday afternoon, such a vote remained elusive, setting the stage for a potential shutdown.