In the midst of an elusive funding stalemate, Chicago's Chief Federal Judge warned Tuesday that he may have no choice but to close the courts down completely.
On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, will officially be out of money.
"Today is Tuesday," said chief judge Ruben Castillo. "I don't see a way to keep going into Friday, unless there is some money coming in from Washington D.C."
That money would have to come in the form of a solution to the funding crisis plaguing Congress and the White House, a dual miracle lifting the current government shutdown and removing the threat of default on the nation's debt.
"We're on financial life support," said Castillo, "and we're running out of funding, which ultimately ends up with one outcome, which is either a partial shutdown, or a complete shutdown."
When the government spun down to all but essential services October 1, Castillo issued an order putting all civil cases on hold. More than 1,000 were frozen. Ironically, those civil cases often generate huge sums of money for the federal government. The recent tax evasion case against Beanie Baby founder Ty Warner, meant a payment to the Treasury of $53 million.
But even as the courts generate huge amounts of revenue, Castillo noted they will be asked this week to do so in an atmosphere where employees can no longer make mortgage payments, or pay their babysitters. As of Thursday, even the money to pay jurors will dry up.
The chief judge called the government's actions a "lack of compassion" toward the very men and women who keep it running.
"We're literally running out of time," he said. "I have to speak up on behalf of not only court employees, but all federal employees."
Indeed, the spectrum of the shutdown covers a wide path. Over 2,000 TSA workers at O'Hare and Midway airports are not being paid, even though they are considered the first line of defense in the nation's war on terror at home. Federal marshals, who face the prospect of bullets fired through doors as they serve fugitive warrants, likewise are missing checks. Even the guards at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center are being asked to show up for work without pay.
"There are real security issues with everything we're asked to do, day in and day out," Castillo noted. "I think it's time that people start speaking up about this, because it's gone on way too long, and it's destructive to the public morale."