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What Fix the Court Fixed in 2020

With courts across the country becoming more transparent, one could say that Fix the Court had its most successful year yet. (One probably shouldn’t say that since this year was awful, but you can make your own judgments.)

To mark this, we’ve put together some highlights (and lowlights) below, arranged by “fix.”

Two caveats: links are not included but are available upon request, and success has many fathers/mothers, so we’re not by any means taking full credit for any of the bullets below.

1. Media and public access
– First time a “free PACER” bill passed in either house of Congress
– SCOTUS livestreamed four sittings for the first time
– All 13 federal circuits livestreamed, a first for nine of them
– Dozens of district court hearings were livestreamed, and a live audio pilot is underway

2. Term limits
– First-ever federal legislation to end life tenure at SCOTUS was introduced
– First-ever FTC-authored law review article – on the why and how of SCOTUS term limits – was published
– President-elect Biden called for a SCOTUS Reform Commission, which we’re working to ensure is a success

3. Ethics
– First-ever bill introduced that included the following: SCOTUS ethics code, livestreamed appeals, recusal explanations, online disclosures and free PACER (this was just one of the record 29 bills we worked on this session)
– First time pro-SCOTUS ethics, anti-harassment and pro-livestreaming language appeared in a House Appropriations report
– Received commitments from lawmakers to introduce SCOTUS ethics bills in Q1 next year, and judicial misconduct legislation is in the works
– Led the effort to make Draft Advisory Op. 117 permanent (lost that one)
– Stopped a fundraiser that involved judges in CA6 and ensured a judge in CA10 was admonished for donating to a U.S. Senate candidate; harass-y judge whose impeachment we called for in 2019 resigned in 2020
– Uncovered several justices’ partisan voter registration records and Justin Walker’s ill-advised loan

4. Stocks/recusals
– Justices only sold one stock in 2019 (Oracle, by Alito), down from four in 2018, though trajectory of stock-based recusals continues to trend downward
– Still can’t get Breyer, Sotomayor and Gorsuch to recuse from cases involving their publisher, Penguin Random House
– Await word on whether Barrett will follow her Sept. 2020 recusal sheet and step aside from BP v. Baltimore

5. Financial disclosures
– Received the second half of the 2018 Article III FDs this month and are expecting the first of the non-SCOTUS 2019s next month
– We’re told the 2020 FDs will be more readable than previous years’, but that’s all we can say for now
– We got the FDs of SCOTUS shortlisters Barrett, Jones Rushing and Lagoa FDs before news outlets did

6. Public appearances
– Via dozens of state freedom of information requests, compiled first-ever comprehensive survey of justices’ trips to public universities; found several received previously unreported perks and two had left trips off their FDs completely

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