House Judiciary Committee Members Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Enhance Judicial Disclosure and Transparency Requirement
Washington, October 26, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Chairman Hank Johnson (D-GA) joined Representatives Deborah Ross (D-NC), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Chip Roy (R-TX) in introducing the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, legislation which requires online publication of financial disclosure reports for federal judges and mandates that federal judges submit periodic transaction reports for certain securities transactions. The Senate companion was introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Kennedy (R-LA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA), along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
“As recent reports have confirmed, our federal judiciary has operated with too much secrecy and minimal accountability for far too long,” said Chairman Nadler and Subcommittee Chairman Johnson. “Transparency and ethics are vital to the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s trust in our courts. We are proud to join Representatives Ross, Issa, and Roy in introducing bipartisan legislation that will improve disclosure requirements for federal judges, a simple step that will help ensure judges remain impartial and cases are decided fairly.”
“Every American is entitled to equal justice under law," said Congresswoman Ross. “To live up to that foundational promise, we must ensure that judges conduct themselves ethically and impartially. That is why I introduced this bipartisan legislation to strengthen the judiciary’s integrity and restore trust in our nation’s courts. The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act will ensure that judges are held to the same disclosure requirements as members of the legislative and executive branches. The bill will also grant public access to these disclosures through an online, searchable database, helping to bring necessary transparency to our nation’s courts.”
“No part of our foundation of law and order can proceed without the considered, continuous and constant work of judges – and that’s why an unbiased judiciary is imperative” said Rep. Issa. “Under the STOCK Act, we will equalize the accountability of our third branch of government to the same standard of elected officials.”
“Federal Judges are increasingly facing cases that involve corporate and other parties that may impact the financial investments and overall wealth of those judges and create conflicts of interest,” said Rep. Roy. “Trust in our judicial system demands clear impartiality of the judges. In order to improve that trust, judges should be required to disclose their financial interests to the American public, meaning at least adhering to the same standard as currently applied to members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. I am proud to co-lead this bipartisan effort with my colleagues from both chambers of Congress.
“The STOCK Act rightly strengthened disclosure requirements and boosted transparency for elected officials, but federal judges were inexplicably carved out of these tougher rules,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation would subject federal judges to the same disclosure requirements of other federal officials so we can be sure litigants are protected from conflicts of interest and cases are decided fairly.”
“A fundamental pillar of our justice system is the right to a fair and impartial trial. Litigants need confidence that they will receive an unbiased hearing free from outside influence and based only on the facts and the law,” said Sen. Coons. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with my colleagues that will strengthen financial disclosure requirements for federal judges and help bolster confidence in the justice system.”
The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act would require that federal judges’ financial disclosure reports be made publicly available online, and require federal judges to submit periodic transaction reports of securities transactions in line with other federal officials under the STOCK Act. The bill would amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to:
Importantly, the bill also preserves the existing ability of judges to request redactions of personal information on financial disclosure reports due to a security concern.
Under current ethics guidelines and federal law, federal judges are prohibited from hearing cases that involve a party in which they, their spouse, or their minor children have a financial interest. Federal judges are instead required to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality may be questioned. Despite this, a recent report from the Wall Street Journal found that between 2010 and 2018, more than 130 federal judges failed to recuse themselves in nearly 700 cases in which they or an immediate family member held stock in a company involved in the case.
While federal judges are required to submit financial disclosure reports, current law does not provide sufficient transparency for litigants to research whether a judge has a conflict of interest. The current process for obtaining judicial financial disclosure forms can be cumbersome and take months or even years. By contrast, financial disclosure reports for the President, Members of Congress, and Presidential-appointed and Senate-confirmed officials are readily-available and searchable online.
By providing litigants with real-time access to judges’ financial disclosures and securities transactions, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act would help preserve the integrity of judicial proceedings, ensure judges recuse themselves when there’s a potential conflict of interest, and provide litigants and the public with greater confidence in the judicial system.Bill text can be found here.