Constitution Daily

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Why do politicians and judges get paid during a government shutdown?

January 19, 2018 by Scott Bomboy


One of the biggest questions during a federal government shutdown is, “who gets paid?” Due to the Constitution, the people directly in charge of the government would still keep getting pay checks while most other government workers won’t.

The list of people who will be furloughed is long. It had more than 800,000 names on it back in October 2013 during the last shutdown. Mostly like, those people will be paid eventually. The Congressional Research Service, which issued an extensive report on shutdowns in November, says the government technically doesn’t have to do that, but it is a standing policy. “In historical practice, federal employees who were furloughed under a shutdown generally have received their salaries retroactively as a result of legislation to that effect,” it explains.

In the Executive Branch, a class of workers called “excepted employees” still need to come to work and do their jobs, but they can’t receive checks until the shutdown ends. This group includes people appointed directly to office by the President.

One exception in the Executive Branch is the President, who gets a paycheck at all times. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution clearly states that “the President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected.”

Over in the Legislative Branch, the support staff for Congress would be affected. “During a funding gap, pay for congressional employees would not be disbursed if there is no appropriation to fund legislative branch activities,” the CRS says. Staffers deemed critical would need to work because they are needed to “support Congress with its constitutional responsibilities or those necessary to protect life and property.”

But members of Congress will still get paychecks, under two parts of the Constitution. Article I, Section 6, says that congress members “shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” The 27th Amendment also forbids any change in the compensation rate for Congress during a current term.

In the federal government’s non-political branch, the Judiciary, the Supreme Court Justices and all appointed Justices also will get paid. Article III, Section 1, says, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.” And like in the Executive Branch, the court determine which essential staff members are needed to support “the judiciary under the Constitution, including activities that support the exercise of Article III judicial powers (i.e., the resolution of cases).” The staffers would need to report to work and would get paid after the shutdown ends.


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