Press Releases

Chairman Nadler Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on "Judicial Ethics and Transparency: The Limits of Existing Statutes and Rules"

Washington, October 26, 2021

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing on "Judicial Ethics and Transparency: The Limits of Existing Statutes and Rules:"

"Thank you, Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Issa, for holding this important hearing today.  The federal judiciary is a pillar of our nation’s government; an institution nearly synonymous with upholding the rule of law.  When Congress, as a co-equal branch, conducts oversight of the courts with hearings such as this one, it is with the following goal in mind: to promote and protect this vital institution in order to safeguard judicial independence and maintain public confidence in our courts.  Our federal judiciary is the envy of the world, and Congress has a clear interest in ensuring that this hard-earned reputation is maintained.

"Today’s hearing is a necessary part of that process.  An investigation by a team of journalists at the Wall Street Journal found that at least 131 federal judges appear to have unlawfully and unethically failed to recuse themselves from cases in which they and their families had a financial interest.  Many judges even actively traded shares in the companies that were appearing before them as litigants.  What the Journal uncovered appears to constitute a massive failure of not just individual judges but of the entire system that is ostensibly in place to prevent this unlawful conduct. 

"Troublingly, many judges simply refused to comment on their apparent violations of the recusal and ethics laws.  Others blamed their clerks, their conflict-checking software, or even the litigants themselves.

"Other judges, however, were clearly aghast that they had missed a financial conflict of interest and welcomed the opportunity to try to make things right.

"One judge put it best when he said, 'I just blew it. I regret any question that I’ve created an appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest.'  He should be credited for his candor, because it reflects exactly the kind of integrity and clear-sightedness that make for an exceptional judge. 

"But with a problem that seems to be this widespread, it would be wrong to single out any one judge.  To its credit, the Administrative Office of the Courts said that it took the matter seriously, but it is clear that the safeguards in place to prevent this kind of misconduct were simply not up to the task.  I hope that the revelations uncovered by the Wall Street Journal’s reporting will spark a thorough reexamination of these safeguards, especially since some of the weaknesses in the current system were already well known.

"Two years ago, this subcommittee held a hearing on judicial ethics and transparency that seems to have foretold many of the problems that the Wall Street Journal’s reporting has brought to light.  At that hearing, our distinguished witnesses told us that Congress should require that judges’ financial disclosure forms, which are necessary to detect potential conflicts of interest, be made publicly available in a searchable online database.  Our witnesses recommended that judges should be required to make their recusals publicly available, along with their reasons for recusing.

"Our witnesses told us that attorneys were afraid to ask a judge to recuse themselves and recommended that recusal motions should be decided by a different judge or a panel of judges.  Our witnesses told us that the judiciary’s decisions regarding ethics and recusal must be made transparently and fairly.

"Our witnesses also made clear that Congress has an obligation to act when the judiciary’s self-regulating efforts fall short.

"Last Congress, I joined Chairman Johnson and Representative Quigley in introducing the Twenty-First Century Courts Act, which included a range of reforms to the laws governing judicial ethics, recusal, and transparency.  Many of the provisions in our bill drew from the Judiciary ROOM Act, which Ranking Member Issa championed when he was Chair of the Subcommittee, and which passed this committee overwhelmingly. 

"The Wall Street Journal’s investigation and other events have made clear that those reforms are not only sorely overdue, but that they must be strengthened.

"I am confident that today’s distinguished witnesses will provide us with excellent suggestions on what reforms to include in an updated version of the Twenty-First Century Courts Act, which we plan on reintroducing soon.

"I look forward to their testimony, and I yield back the balance of my time."