WASHINGTON - Ordering federal employees to work during a government shutdown violates the U.S. Constitution, according to a lawsuit filed today by the nation's largest federal employee union.
The American Federation of Government Employees filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry are named as defendants.
The lawsuit contends that the Obama administration is violating the U.S. Constitution's Appropriations Clause and Thirteenth Amendment by requiring federal civilian employees to work without pay during a period of lapsed federal appropriations.
"Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be required to work during a shutdown, and there's no guarantee that Congress will keep the administration's promise to pay those employees once the shutdown is over," AFGE National President John Gage said.
Section 1341 of Title 31 of the U.S. Code prohibits federal and D.C. government workers from spending or obligating funds that have not already been appropriated by Congress.
The administration claims that it can require certain employees to work during a shutdown under Section 1342 of Title 31, which includes a clause covering "emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."
However, AFGE's lawsuit contends that this section of U.S. Code is not a valid exception to the prohibition on incurring debts during a shutdown because it is not an appropriations law and does not empower federal agencies to force Congress to pay for debts incurred during a shutdown.
"The Constitution requires an appropriation by Congress before federal dollars can be spent, no exceptions," Gage said. "Without an appropriation, the agencies simply can't spend money or incur debts by forcing employees to work."