It's Your Own Fault, Judge Tells Congress
(CN) - A federal judge slammed the House Oversight Committee for claiming the government shutdown should not impact its lawsuit seeking to force the attorney general to hand over documents related to the government's bungled "Fast and Furious" operation.
"There are no exigent circumstances in this case that would justify an order of the court forcing furloughed attorneys to return to their desk," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., wrote in a succinct order Thursday.
She granted Attorney General Eric Holder's motion to stay the proceedings in light of the government shutdown that began Oct. 1 due to congressional gridlock over funding.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by California Republican Darrell Issla, filed a civil contempt action against Holder in August 2012 that seeks to enforce a subpoena against the attorney general for documents tied to the bungled gun-smuggling operation.
Using a practice known as "gun walking," the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed guns bought illegally in the United States to be smuggled to Mexico to try to establish a link between gun buyers and Mexican gang leaders.
The operation failed when the government allegedly lost track of about 2,000 guns, two of which were later found at the scene of a border patrolman's murder on Dec. 15, 2010.
Without funding, "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,'" Holder argued in his motion to stay.
The committee responded that the Justice Department's own contingency plan allows employees to work on matters "necessary to the discharge of the president's constitutional duties and powers," including this one.
It noted that Jackson recently rejected Holder's motion to dismiss, and that the court had announced it would stay open for at least 10 business days following the shutdown.
But the committee's arguments failed to sway Jackson, who blamed the House for its predicament.
"[W]hile the vast majority of litigants who now must endure a delay in the progress of their matters do so due to circumstances beyond their control, that cannot be said of the House of Representatives, which has played a role in the shutdown that prompted the stay motion," she wrote.
The shutdown has forced the government to seek stays in several cases, including lawsuits challenging the Obama administration's drone-strike policy and Texas' voter ID law.