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Getting It Done: Five of Our "Fixes" Included in New Senate Bill

Fix the Court Applauds Sen. Warren’s Proposal to Improve Transparency and Accountability in the Federal Judiciary

FTC hopes Judiciary Republicans, several of whom support these concepts, will co-sponsor

Though Chief Justice Roberts could himself make the Supreme Court more open and accountable, he hasn’t done enough to date, and Fix the Court has been working with members of Congress in both parties to draft new bills to make it so. That work has led to the introduction of a series of judicial reforms by Sen. Elizabeth Warren as part of her broad legislation taking aim at government opacity and corruption.

This reform package would require federal judges and justices to abide by rules that are analogous to those followed by their counterparts in the other branches in a way that does not impinge upon judicial independence.

“From livestreaming audio to posting reasons for recusal to prohibiting individual stock ownership, Sen. Warren’s bill would take several confounding and antediluvian practices of the federal judiciary and make them history,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth said. “Provisions to prevent conflicts of interest and reduce barriers to public information should not be controversial, so I’m confident there’s much in the bill that Chairman Grassley, Chairman Goodlatte and other Judiciary Republicans will like.”

Proposals for the judiciary that are included in Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act are as follows, the first five of which are FTC “fixes”:

– Banning individual stock ownership by federal judges and justices. (Currently three justices – Roberts, Breyer and Alito – own individual shares, though they have each significantly reduced their holdings since FTC’s founding.)

– Directing the Supreme Court to establish a formal and binding code of ethics. (FTC has stood with members of Congress in introducing a standalone ethics bill, but there’s no harm in including this provision in a larger effort.)

– Requiring the Judicial Conference to publicly post judges’ speeches and annual disclosure reports. (Speeches are already posted to some extent, but the record is far from complete, and the judiciary needs a push to make it so. Thanks to lobbying from FTC and media, disclosures have been digitized since 2017, and there’s no reason the U.S. Courts can’t upload PDF versions themselves. )

– Requiring the Judicial Conference to publicly post judicial “conflict sheets. (Having a public record of a judge or justice’s associations that might lead to a recusal will ensure there are fewer missed recusals.)

– Mandating that federal appellate courts livestream audio of their proceedings. (The Ninth and D.C. Circuits do this already, and several – including the Supreme Court– have the capability. Given the size of the circuits, the importance of their work and the ease of livestreaming, immediate audio access should be automatic.)

– Expanding rules prohibiting judges from accepting gifts or payments to attend private seminars from private individuals and corporations. (Certain details from private judicial seminars and public seminars costing more than $100,000 are posted online, but nothing is currently done with that information.)

– Ending the practice of charging members of the public basic information in PACER about federal court cases. (This may be the least controversial of the lot.)

You can read the Sen. Warren bill here.

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