U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reintroduced the bicameral Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act,legislation to strengthen our nation’s judicial ethics laws, impose an enforceable code of conduct on the Supreme Court, and ban federal judges from owning individual stock.
Tristin Brown, PPP’s Policy and Program Director, was quoted in Representative Jayapal’s press release announcing the reintroduction: “The veil of corruption and hypocrisy continues to be lifted off of the Supreme Court. As we continue to learn more about blatant ethical violations by the justices, it becomes clearer just how unaccountable this Court is to the public. Unlike other federal courts and Congress, the Supreme Court is the only body that does not have a binding code of ethics and each passing day makes it evident that one is desperately needed. The Judicial Ethics and Anticorruption Act would begin the process of addressing a Court that currently answers to no one. The legislation would, among other things, require the Court to adhere to a binding Code of Conduct, overhaul the broken judicial recusal process, and create new mechanisms for judicial accountability. We are thrilled to support this legislation and hope that others who are committed to the rule of law and democracy will do the same.”
Specifically, the bill would:
- Require the Supreme Court to adhere to a binding Code of Conduct. The bill imposes the existing Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges on the Supreme Court, the only federal court in the country not currently subject to a binding ethical code.
- Create new mechanisms for judicial accountability. The bill closes the loophole that allows judges to escape accountability by retiring from the bench, strengthens disciplinary authority for the Judicial Conference, sets up expedited impeachment procedures for federal judges, and allows the public to file complaints against Supreme Court Justices—like all other federal judges—through a new Supreme Court Complaints Review Committee.
- Overhaul the broken judicial recusal process. The bill requires Supreme Court Justices to issue written recusal decisions whenever a litigant requests recusal and requires the Judicial Conference to issue advisory opinions with their recusal recommendations. And the bill creates a new recusal process for lower court judges, forbidding judges from making their own recusal decisions and requiring courts to issue written recusal decisions.
- Strengthen restrictions on judicial gifts and privately funded travel. The bill clarifies the definition of a “gift” under federal law, caps the monetary value of gifts that can be given as personal hospitality, sets up a new oversight process for judicial attendance at privately funded events, and creates a Judicial Education Fund to pay for the reasonable expenses associated with attending approved events.
- Ban federal judges from owning conflicted assets. To root out financial conflicts of interest, the bill forbids judges from owning individual stocks and securities, commercial real estate, trusts, and private companies, while making exceptions for certain assets such as mutual funds. And the bill establishes accounts for judges to make conflict-free investments that are independently managed by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.
- Improve disclosure in the federal judiciary. The bill provides more information to the public regarding judicial speeches and case assignments, while mandating the livestreaming of court proceedings and new judicial workplace surveys.
- Restrict courts from sealing public health and safety records. The bill limits the ability of courts to seal records that contain important information for the protection of public health or safety, often concealed at the urging of massive corporations.
In addition to PPP, this legislation is endorsed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Demand Justice, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Transparency International U.S., Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, Campaign Legal Center, People for the American Way, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Indivisible, Stand Up America, Take Back the Court Action Fund, Demand Progress, Government Accountability Project, AFSCME, Center for Popular Democracy, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), League of Conservation Voters, National Council of Jewish Women, American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Alliance for Justice.