Jayapal, Warren, colleagues introduce bill to reform broken Judicial Ethics System

Washington, DC: Indian American US Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have introduced the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act to overhaul the nation’s judicial ethics laws and restore public faith in the court system.  

“We can no longer stand by while our judges and justices take advantage of our system to build wealth and power at the expense of our country’s most marginalized. A system without basic ethics is a corrupt system,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “People deserve impartial judges and justices who aren’t beholden to special interests or to their personal agenda. Nobody is above the law. Not even a Supreme Court Justice. My bill with Senator Warren will reinstate the checks and balances needed to ensure a fair and balanced judicial system that fulfills its promise of equal justice under the law.” 

“I’ve been fighting to reform our judicial ethics system for years. At a time when public trust in the Supreme Court has collapsed to historic lows, it’s critical that we enact legislation to reform this broken system. From banning federal judges from owning individual stocks to overhauling the broken judicial recusal process, my bill would help root out corruption and restore public trust in the federal judiciary – something that Chief Justice Roberts has simply failed to do,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren. 

Specifically, the bill would: 

  • 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. 

  • Strengthen restrictions on judicial gifts and privately funded travel. The bill clarifies the definition of “gift” under federal law, 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. 

  • 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 court in the country not currently subject to an ethical code. 

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

Image courtesy of thesatimes

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