Workforce

Judge denies injunction in shutdown case

By Mark Van Scyoc shutterstock  photo ID: 1130638229 

Federal employees lost separate bids for relief in three shutdown related lawsuits. (Photo credit: Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against granting injunctions and temporary restraining orders in three lawsuits against the federal government over separate questions of constitutionality raised by the shutdown, maintaining the status quo of shutdown operations.

Judge Richard Leon said at a Jan. 15 hearing that it would be "profoundly irresponsible" to issue judicial orders that would force some workers home or require others to be paid out of current funds.

Three plaintiffs on behalf of federal employees made three separate cases arguing that the practice of requiring some federal employees to work without pay violates the Constitution.

The National Treasury Employees Union argued requiring federal employees to work without pay during a lapse in appropriations violates the appropriations clause of the constitution. Paras Shah, assistant counsel with NTEU, made the case that even though federal employees would eventually receive back pay, the status quo gives the executive branch a "blank check" with "no limit on the obligations the executive branch could incur."

NTEU lawyers also argued that "even if it is constitutional, which we don’t think it is," the directive issued by the Office of Management and Budget on who should be excepted is "overly broad," Shah said.

NTEU said while an injunction to send all federal employees home would potentially cause chaos, it sought a 72-hour stay to allow Congress and the president to work out a deal.

Judge Leon said "the judiciary is not and cannot be another source of leverage" for unions to urge a political resolution to the shutdown.

The second case, Hardy v. Donald J. Trump, which represents five unnamed federal workers, argued the shutdown violated the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery on the grounds employees were being forced to work without pay and without the option to earn outside income. The counsel for Hardy sought an injunction that would allow feds, including excepted feds, to choose for themselves their essential status and whether or not to go to work.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association argued the shutdown violated the Fifth Amendment, and funds have been deprived from air traffic controllers without due process. Their lawyer asked Judge Leon to restore pay through the Department of Treasury's funds that have already been appropriated.

Judge Leon denied all motions for injunctions or restraining orders.

He said such orders are reserved for "extraordinary and even drastic" circumstances, and in the end, it would be "profoundly irresponsible" to issue orders that would "at best" cause "chaos and confusion."

Judge Leon set a Jan. 31 date for oral arguments in all three cases.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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