Fix the Court submitted testimony today to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, IP and the Internet for today’s hearing on the judicial branch that describes how instituting pro-transparency reforms would enhance the public’s trust that justice is being carried out effectively across the country.
“At a time when the legislative and executive branches have undertaken various initiatives to improve openness and accountability, the judicial branch has largely overlooked implementing similar proposals,” said Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth. “Now is the time for the judiciary to change course – by expanding broadcast access, developing cognitive wellness programs and strengthening ethics rules. I am pleased to give my recommendations to the subcommittee and hope for a dialogue among its members, the Administrative Office and legal NGOs on ways to increase judicial transparency.”
In his testimony Roth begins by asserting that the federal judiciary should strive to make the work of its circuit and district courts more accessible to the American people via expanded broadcast access. Though a cameras pilot program recently concluded in more than a dozen district courts, encouraging circuit courts to stream audio and record video would give Americans a better sense that the federal courts are fulfilling their constitutional role.
Second, Roth points out that the public is much more likely to trust the third branch knowing that its judges are fully capable of carrying out their roles. Given that the average age and length of jurists’ tenure is on the rise, Roth recommended that the officials who oversee court administration should examine ways to combat the potential for cognitive decline and not wait until a judge or justice is impaired to act.
Third, Roth counsels that trust in the judiciary is dependent on the character of the individuals administering justice. Thus the federal judiciary should strive to improve oversight.
Right now, however, federal judges are not required to place their personal financial disclosure reports online, nor do they periodically report stock transactions like members of Congress and top executive branch officials. They have weaker rules for privately-funded travel and are not subject to an external oversight body, like an inspector general. Plus, complaints regarding a judge’s conduct are adjudicated by other judges, either in a circuit-based Judicial Council or the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability. With judges judging other judges, few grievances ever result in anything more severe than a proverbial slap on the wrist.
“Even worse,” Roth added, “should Congress propose to make any changes to this protocol, the Administrative Office will dismiss it outright, despite Article I and Article III giving Congress clear power over the operations of the third branch.”
For the American people to have confidence that justice is being done within the federal courts system, Roth concluded, its judges should be subject to strict, yet reasonable, ethics, finance and disclosure rules.
Other witnesses for today’s hearing include Jim Duff, director of the AO, and Judge Rodney Sippel of the East District of Missouri.