Friday, January 25, 2019
Judge Richard J. Leon (D.D.C.) earlier this week denied a temporary restraining order in favor of the federal employees who sued to get backpay and to not have to go to work during the shutdown. Judge Leon ordered further argument next Thursday, but the case is now likely moot (in light of today's agreement to get things going again, even if only temporarily).
The ruling means that the court declines to order the government to do anything for the employees, and leaves things to the political branches to work it out.
Judge Leon wrote in explicit separation-of-powers terms (and animated text--all emphasis in original):
But I want and need to make something very clear: the Judiciary is not just another source of leverage to be tapped in the ongoing internal squabble between the political branches. We are an independent, co-equal branch of government, and whether or not we can afford to keep our lights on, our oath is to the Constitution and the faithful application of the law. In the final analysis, the shutdown is a political problem. It does NOT, and can NOT, change this Court's limited role. Of that I am very certain.
But a TRO is designed to freeze the state of affairs, not throw the status quo into disarray. The TROs sought here would do the latter. Moreover, the emergency relief standard is a sliding scale, and one of the factors I have to weigh is whether granting relief sought is in the public interest. [One group of plaintiffs] would effectively have me order the Federal Aviation Administration to pay [their] unpaid salaries with money that the FAA does not have right now. As plaintiffs well know, Congress has the power of the purse, not me. I cannot grant injunctive relief in that form.
[Another group of plaintiffs] would have me, in effect, give all currently excepted federal employees--numbering in the hundreds of thousands across dozens of agencies--the option not to show up for work tomorrow. These are employees who perform functions that the relevant agencies have determined bear on the safety of human life and/or the protection of property. If I were to issue a TRO, there is no way to know how many of these excepted employees would choose not to report to work tomorrow, and there is no way to know what public services would therefore go unprovided.
It would be profoundly irresponsible under these circumstances--with no record whatsoever telling me what government functions would be impacted--for me to grant that TRO. At best, it would create chaos and confusion--at worst, catastrophe!