Today the House Appropriations Subcommittee that handles the federal judiciary’s budget will hear from Jim Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Here are some questions we’d like members of that subcommittee to ask him.
Questions on harassment in the judiciary:
Though he’s here to discuss the judiciary’s budget, we do have some questions about the progress of the Judiciary Working Group that Duff chairs, which was formed earlier this year to protect employees from inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
What is the Working Group doing to address social and professional norms in the judiciary that make it difficult for victims to report harassment?
Given that the working environment in chambers often facilitates inequalities between judges and their law clerks, what is the Working Group doing to assist clerks and to ensure their voices are heard both nowas the judiciary’s policy on misconduct is modernized and in the future?
In her January essay in the Washington Post titled, “Pressuring harassers to quit can end up protecting them,” former Alex Kozinski clerk Katherine Ku wrote, “With [Kozinski’s] immediate retirement […], he has essentially shut down the federal judiciary’s investigation of his conduct. That allows him to disappear, quietly receiving his pension, until the outrage dies down.” Do you see a problem with a system that allows judges accused of misconduct to retire with full benefits but without a full accounting of their actions? Should we in Congress work with you at the AO to change this?
Questions on transparency in the judiciary:
In the last year, the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits became the final two federal appeals courts to post argument audio online within 24 hours of a hearing, the Fourth and D.C. Circuits have allowed live audio at times, and the Third Circuit has begun allowing video. How would you assess the success of these programs to bring the public greater access to our federal courts?
Also in the last year or so, about half of the circuits have begun studying the effects of aging on their judges and have implemented judicial wellness policies or committees. How would you assess the efficacy of these programs?
A recent Freedom of Information request from Fix the Court laid bare the inconsistent security measures for Supreme Court justices when they travel throughout the U.S., as in the nine must opt-in to obtain any protection from the U.S. Marshals Service. Though you cannot mandate Supreme Court policy in this area, from your perspective and in light of the rising threats to federal officials, do you believe that federal judges are adequately protected by security services, and if not, what would you recommend improving?
At least a few times each term, justices “forget” their previous work or investments that cause statutory conflicts and have to “unrecuse” from cases or petitions they’ve already heard. Are missed recusals also becoming more common in lower courts, and if so, do you have any recommendations on how to fix this?