Judicial Independence Under Attack: A Theory of Necessity

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Did the longest government shutdown in United States history this past winter constitute a severe threat to a functioning and independent federal judiciary? In short, yes. From the vantage point of a district court’s chambers, we experienced firsthand the uncertainty that almost weakened the federal judiciary when Congress and the President were at odds over the budget, threatening the judicial branch of the government with shrinkage or closure. This Essay asserts a viable legal theory—we call it a “theory of necessity”—to prevent any constitutional crisis caused by a future government shutdown. This theory invokes four building blocks of well‐established legal doctrines that, when connected, pave a path to secure the judicial branch’s autonomy. The theory of necessity requires the legislative and executive branches to recognize their constitutional obligations to fund the judicial branch, without interruption.

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