Union Lawsuits Over The Shutdown Are Stalled Because Government Lawyers Can’t Go To Work

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

A federal employees’ union lawsuit against the Trump administration over the shutdown is tied up in court because federal attorneys at the Department of Justice have been ordered not to work.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and other labor groups sued President Donald Trump, claiming that forcing thousands of government employees to work without receiving regular paychecks violates federal law.

The lawsuits are stalled without any clear sign when they might be addressed. The federal shutdown, which started Dec. 22, 2018, and has entered its fifth week, caused many DOJ attorneys to go on furlough. Without any attorneys free to argue the government’s case, judges have refused to push the lawsuits forward.

“Neither the court nor the attorneys at the Department of Justice has the authority to change the present circumstances,” U.S. Court of Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith said in ruling on the AFGE lawsuit Jan. 15, according to Reuters. (RELATED: What Shutdown? 82 Percent Of Small Businesses Are ‘Unaffected’ By Federal Lapse, Study Says)

The Trump administration has filed numerous requests for stays in court cases the federal government is a party to, including cases not directly linked to the shutdown. The federal government asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2018 to postpone all new filings in a lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump illegally profited from his hotel in Washington, D.C.

“The Department does not know when funding will be restored by Congress,” Justice Department lawyers wrote, according to Politico. “Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ’emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.'”

Federal air traffic controller union members protest the partial U.S. federal government shutdown in a rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. Jan. 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Federal air traffic controller union members protest the partial U.S. federal government shutdown in a rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. Jan. 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The court granted the Trump administration’s request. Actions in other lawsuits challenging Atlantic Ocean offshore drilling tests and the Trump administration’s asylum restrictions for illegal immigrants have also been postponed.

Court proceedings in criminal cases “involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” are ongoing because of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a right to a speedy trial, The Associated Press reports.

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