|For Immediate Release
July 20, 2011
Contact: Kim Smith Hicks, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H.R. 1059, the Extension of Authority to Redact Judicial Financial Disclosure Statements
Chairman Smith: H.R. 1059 promotes an important goal – providing security for federal judges.
Under the Ethics in Government Act, judges and other high-level judicial branch officials must file annual financial disclosure reports. This requirement increases public confidence in government officials and better enables the public to judge the performance of those officials.
However, recognizing the nature of the judicial function and the increased security risks it entails, Congress also enacted legislation that allows the Judicial Conference to redact statutorily required information in a financial disclosure report where the release of the information could endanger the filer or his or her family.
Those seeking to harm or intimidate federal judges might use a disclosure form to identify where someone’s spouse or child works or goes to school on a regular basis.
Individuals targeting judges for harassment have also been known to file false liens on property owned by judges and their families. Harassers could use judicial financial disclosure reports to more easily identify such property.
The Judicial Conference delegated to its Committee on Financial Disclosure the responsibility for implementing the financial disclosure requirements for judges and judicial employees under the Ethics in Government Act. The Committee monitors the release of financial disclosure reports to ensure compliance with the statute.
In consultation with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Committee also reviews and approves or disapproves any request for the redaction of statutorily mandated information where the filer believes the release of the information could endanger the filer and their family. Under the Judicial Conference’s regulations, no redaction will be granted without a clear nexus between a security risk and the information for which redaction is sought.
The law has worked well through the years and has been reauthorized twice since 2001. But it expires at the end of this calendar year if we fail to act.
Last year the Marshal Service investigated and analyzed almost 1,400 threats and inappropriate communications to judicial officials – nearly three times as many threats as recorded in 2003. And there were more than 3,900 “incidents” and arrests at US court facilities in 2010.
Financial disclosures are an important part of maintaining an open and transparent government. But government transparency should not come at the cost of personal security for government officials. Judges and other judicial employees perform important work that is integral to our democratic system of government. In order to preserve the integrity of our democracy, we must protect the integrity of our courts. And that means ensuring the security of judges and other judicial employees from intimidation and threats.
In closing, there is no evidence that the current law is being abused. I support H.R. 1059 and urge the Committee to extend the redaction authority permanently.