First Monday in October – The Supreme Court reconvenes . . . for now


As much as I look forward to February for baseball’s Spring Training, and the first drop of a pre-season puck in September, it is the first Monday in October – the start of a new Supreme Court term – that is my professional New Year’s Day.

The Supreme Court reconvenes today with oral arguments in three cases, and it has a full schedule booked through next week. But, like other U.S. courts around the country, operations are in question after October 15 (next Tuesday). So, unless the other two branches of Government find a solution to the shutdown, the Third Branch also seems ready to shutter at least some of its windows.

Why do we care? First, may mean that ordinary citizens will not be able to get their civil claims decided by a Judge – including social security and Veteran’s Administration claims. Law-abiding folks who are entitled to their days in court will not get them.

But the more insidious danger is to public safety. When criminal cases are put on hold, some defendants, and the public, will lose their rights to speedy trials. For many, this just means that the cases are dismissed, the defendants are freed for a while, and the Justice Department can charge them again later – at an additional cost.

But for some, want of a speedy trial means their cases will be dismissed for good, and they will go free – whether they are guilty, or dangerous to us all.

For others, closed courts mean they will sit in jail even longer, even if they’re not guilty. That thought alone would horrify many of our Founders.

For now, while many civil cases have been put on hold, criminal cases are still moving. But practitioners have been told to stay tuned for further instructions, if the shutdown is not resolved by October 15. On the Supreme Court’s website, our top jurists promise that “further update will be provided in the event the lapse of appropriations continues beyond October 11.” On Friday, then, we’ll know how the shutdown will affect the Supreme Court’s new term.

This post does not even address the BOP staffers already working without pay. It doesn’t address the lack of programs for inmates, programs that are proven to make us safer when these offenders return to the community. It also doesn’t address the furloughs already suffered in U.S. Attorney and Federal Defender Offices alike – or the cut in already low pay that we CJA Panelists have accepted, because we must if we are to serve. Those permanent costs to the Justice System’s morale — and trust — are costs we’ll never be able to put a dollar figure to.

We all have our opinions about what caused this mess, and how to solve it. But there is one unassailable fact -– if we don’t fund the courts, our constitutional Republic, and our streets, are in grave danger.