Judge refuses to force government to pay federal employees working without compensation during shutdown

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to issue an order that would have forced the federal government to temporarily pay federal workers during the government shutdown.

Judge Richard J. Leon, a George W. Bush appointee on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, declined to issue the temporary restraining order federal employees unions had asked for in separate lawsuits challenging the partial shutdown, which is now in its 25th day.

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In a ruling from the bench, Leon said only Congress can appropriate funds, adding that “the Judiciary is not, and cannot be, just another source of leverage," according to MSNBC. He also said it would “profoundly irresponsible to issue an order that would result in thousands of employees staying home from work,” The Washington Post reported.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)  and the The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) brought lawsuits challenging the shutdown on behalf of their members. The requests for the temporary restraining orders were heard together in court on Tuesday.

A temporary restraining order only last about 14 days. The parties will now go back to court to argue over whether the court should issue a longer order that would force the government to pay its employees while the merits of the case are argued in court.

NATCA’s suit alleged the government is violating the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution because it’s unlawfully depriving members of their earned wages without due process.

NTEU, meanwhile, claims workers are being forced to work under a law that's unconstitutional. Under the Constitution, they say, no funds can be drawn from the Treasury with without a congressional appropriation, but the Antideficiency Act purports to authorize the executive branch to obligate funds that have not been appropriated.

Leon ordered the the government to respond to the unions’ requests for this preliminary injunction by next Tuesday and for the unions to file a response by Jan. 28. He then set a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction for Jan. 31.  

—Updated at 2:42 p.m. Justin Wise contributed.