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Judiciary News You Can Use

1. The Open Courts Act (H.R. 8235) passed House Judiciary yesterday, marking the first time a standalone “free PACER” bill cleared a congressional committee. Several Hill staffers emailed us to say this bill has more legs than one would expect during a pandemic, so expect an update on House floor action and/or a Senate version soon.

2. Chief Justice Roberts announced this morning that the October arguments will be remote with live audio. Nice! Did a just-released letter by civics teachers from his Indiana high school have any impact? We may never know, but it didn’t hurt. The Reporters Committee and 50 news organizations sent a live audio letter to the court, as well.

3. We still have just half of the 2018 A3 financial disclosures and one half of one percent of the 2019s. How can we do our jobs if the courts can’t follow through on the most basic of accountability measures? And, how is it okay for there to be a 45-day disclosure requirement, via the STOCK Act, for members of Congress and the executive branch, but a 531-day lag – e.g., if a justice sold a stock on 1/1/20, we’d hear about it on 6/15/21 – for the judiciary? We aim to pitch fixes in next year’s H.R. 1.

4. Relatedly, we received a note from the spouse of a federal judge that’s pretty odd. This note, written in March 2019 by a former AO employee who now runs a firm that helps judges prepare their FDs – recall that the AO reimburses judges up to $1,370 for FD prep (p. 22) – says it’s okay for judges to withhold all sorts of critical, non-personalized data from annual reports. (It’s not, actually.) And this was written 18 months before the overzealous memo the AO sent out Sept. 4 (p. 5) that would make it impossible to learn if, say, a judge was given a house or a car by a litigant. Recall that home addresses, SSNs, names of spouses and kids, etc., are already not part of FDsGive the courts more money for security, sure, but let’s skip the First Amendment infringements, please.

5. Finally, we’re revisiting a plan that Justice Stevens pitched Sen. Leahy back in 2010 that goes like this: if a retired SCOTUS justice is alive, willing and able, s/he can be called upon to return to the high court should there be an unexpected vacancy. So if something should happen to Ginsburg and Breyer, Kennedy and Souter could be called upon to suit up. We see this as preferable to Majority Leader McConnell blocking Biden nominees ad infinitum, which we all know he’d do, and leaving the court unnecessarily short-handed. More on this soon.

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