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Law Professor: Government Shutdowns Start with a Legal Opinion

September 30, 2013
Contact: University Relations
Phone: 410.837.5739

Speaking on NPR, University of Baltimore School of Law Professor Charles Tiefer, an expert in Congressional rules and federal regulations, says the looming shutdown of the nation's government is rooted in a legal opinion rendered during the Carter administration.

"In the '60s and '70s down until 1980, [the threat of a shutdown] was not taken that seriously at all," says Tiefer, a former legal adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But near the end of President Jimmy Carter's administration, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion that made it clear that government workers cannot stay on the job unless and until Congress agrees to pay for their labors.

"They used an obscure statute to say that if any work continued in an agency where there wasn't money, the employees were behaving like illegal volunteers," Tiefer tells NPR. "So they not only could shut off the lights and leave, they were obliged to shut off the lights and leave."

Check out NPR's coverage.

Learn more about Prof. Tiefer.