On Thursday, June 8, 2023, Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal’s personal page reported that in an effort to strengthen the nation’s judicial ethics laws and restore public trust in the federal courts, Representative Pramila Jayapal and Senator Elizabeth Warren have reintroduced the bicameral Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act. The legislation aims to impose an enforceable code of conduct on the Supreme Court, ban federal judges from owning individual stock, and enhance mechanisms for judicial accountability.

Representative Jayapal has stressed the importance of basic ethics in the functioning of a system, particularly when it comes to the Supreme Court, saying that a system without basic ethics is a corrupt system. Jayapal highlighted that public trust in the judicial system has reached record lows, with numerous scandals plaguing the Supreme Court. These scandals have involved judges and justices leveraging their positions to accumulate wealth and power, undermining the interests of the country.

Representative Jayapal argues the American people deserve a judiciary that upholds the highest ethical standards, free from conflicts of interest, and beholden to special interests. The reintroduction of the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act seeks to address these concerns and ensure a fair and impartial court system.

Senator Warren recognizes the significant decrease in public trust in the judicial system. To address this issue, both she and Representative Jayapal have put forth the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act as a potential solution.

One of the primary objectives of the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act is to enhance judicial accountability and root out conflicts of interest within the federal judiciary. By holding the Supreme Court and all federal judges to a higher ethical standard, this legislation seeks to rebuild public trust in the judicial system.

The proposed bill encompasses several key provisions aimed at improving judicial ethics and accountability, specifically:

  1. Binding Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court: The bill requires the Supreme Court to adhere to a binding Code of Conduct, bringing it in line with other federal courts that are already subject to ethical guidelines.
  2. Enhanced Mechanisms for Judicial Accountability: The bill addresses the issue of judges retiring from the bench to avoid accountability by closing this loophole. It strengthens the disciplinary authority of the Judicial Conference and establishes expedited impeachment procedures for federal judges. Additionally, it introduces a new Supreme Court Complaints Review Committee, allowing the public to file complaints against Supreme Court Justices.
  3. Reform of Judicial Recusal Process: The bill overhauls the existing recusal process. It mandates Supreme Court Justices to issue written recusal decisions upon request and requires the Judicial Conference to issue advisory opinions on recusal recommendations. Furthermore, it establishes a new recusal process for lower court judges, ensuring written recusal decisions are made and prohibiting judges from making their own recusal determinations.
  4. Stricter Regulations on Judicial Gifts and Privately Funded Travel: The bill clarifies the definition of a “gift” under federal law, imposes monetary value limits on personal hospitality gifts, establishes oversight for privately funded event attendance, and creates a Judicial Education Fund to cover reasonable expenses associated with approved events.
  5. Prohibition on Conflicted Assets: To address financial conflicts of interest, the bill prohibits federal judges from owning individual stocks and securities, commercial real estate, trusts, and private companies. Exceptions are made for certain assets, such as mutual funds. Additionally, the legislation establishes conflict-free investment accounts managed independently by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.
  6. Enhanced Disclosure Requirements: The bill increases transparency in the federal judiciary by providing more information to the public regarding judicial speeches and case assignments. It mandates livestreaming of court proceedings and introduces new judicial workplace surveys.
  7. Restriction on Sealing Public Health and Safety Records: The bill limits the ability of courts to seal records containing vital information related to public health or safety, which are often hidden at the request of large corporations.

The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act has garnered support from various individuals and organizations. They emphasize the urgent need to rebuild public trust in the judiciary, which has been eroded by ethical scandals and a lack of accountability. The bill aims to hold judges and justices to the highest ethical standards by implementing a binding Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court, closing loopholes that allow judges to evade accountability, and enhancing mechanisms for judicial recusal and disciplinary actions. It also seeks to improve transparency by regulating judicial gifts and privately funded travel, prohibiting judges from owning conflicted assets, and enhancing disclosure requirements. Supporters believe that these measures will strengthen the integrity of the judiciary and restore public faith in the courts. They call on Congress to pass the bill promptly to address systemic deficiencies and ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the judicial branch.

 

Source: Pramila Jayapal, Congresswoman for Wa-07