A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request from a federal employees union to require the government to pay air traffic controllers who are currently working without pay during the partial government shutdown.
The temporary restraining order was requested by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
District Judge Richard Leon also denied two requests for temporary restraining orders regarding whether federal employees who are deemed essential and required to work without pay during the shutdown should be forced to work.
- The National Treasury Employees Union argued that requiring essential employees to work without pay violates the Antideficiency Act, part of the US Code. The union requested a temporary restraining order that would effectively allow essential employees not to be forced to work without pay during the shutdown.
- The second temporary restraining order, requested by individual federal workers in a separate suit, asked that federal employees deemed essential be given the choice of whether to show up to work, so they could take extra work to cover expenses if needed.
But Leon argued that Congress is the only branch of government that has the constitutional power to appropriate funds, and that the judiciary “is not and cannot be another source of leverage.”
“We are an independent and coequal branch of government even if we can’t keep our lights on,” Leon said in court.
Leon denied all three temporary restraining orders but set a schedule for hearings regarding preliminary injunctions requested by all three suits, so while attorneys for federal employees did not win on Tuesday, they will have another chance to argue their cases before the judge. Oral arguments are scheduled for the end of the month.
The US District Court for the District of Columbia, however, is a federal court funded by the government. Federal court offices operating with fees and other reserve funds are set to run out of money on Friday because of the shutdown, according to National Law Journal.
For a judge to grant a temporary restraining order, the plaintiffs must show they are likely to suffer irreparable harm if it is not granted.
While Leon acknowledged that he did not “have any doubt that there is hardship being felt,” he also said allowing employees deemed essential by the executive branch not to come to work would “at best create chaos and confusion” and at worst be “catastrophic.”
This story has been updated.