“It’s the right thing to do.” So says a senior federal district judge in Nebraska, and he’s right. We’re well into the third week of a government shutdown that is raising questions around the world, and what’s worse, we are fewer than 36 hours away from the presumptive, approximate moment when the United States reaches its debt limit and thereafter, essentially, declares to the world that it cannot or will not continue to make payments on the debt that it owes.
Well, many judges have had enough, and they’ve begun issuing orders designating all courthouse staff from judicial chambers and clerk’s offices to be essential, which makes them exempt from furlough under the Anti-Deficiency Act. And they’re right. These remaining employees are essential because our courts have already been hit hard by the budget cuts known as the sequester. They’ve been “stripped to the bones,” in the words of some, and “running on fumes” in the words of others. Just consider this: The judiciary is our third branch of government, but its budget is far less than one percent of the overall federal budget. It has no control over its workload. It must take cases as they come in because it has no choice, and it’s not supposed to. By constitutional and statutory mandates, the courts exist to resolve civil and criminal disputes fairly so that we’re governed by the rule of law. The alternative is what, vigilante justice?
The whole world is watching. Here’s hoping our lawmakers and representatives care more about the full faith and credit of the United States than about saving face or making a political point. Here’s hoping they get something done in the next 36 hours or so.