Free PACER, database oversight and judicial security top the list
1. Get the Open Courts Act through the Senate and on to the House floor
The bottom line is without legislation, the judiciary will not make PACER free or user-friendly. (That the AO consistently puts the word “free” in scare quotes in their letters on the bill tells you all you need to know.)
Recall that the STOCK Act, which required online disclosures and stock trades in the other branches, became law in 2012, and in the intervening years, the third branch did nothing to achieve parity. It took a law passed earlier this year to make this happen (more on that below).
Similarly, without a law mandating free PACER within a reasonable time period, we’ll be getting platitudes from, and a slush fund for, the AO for years to come but no meaningful results.
2. Ensure that the judiciary’s new disclosures and stock-trade database functions as required by the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act
The database that came out Monday, two days under the 180-day deadline, contains a mere 440 disclosures — there are about 2,400 federal judges — and only about 130 are from district judges and 60 are from circuit judges; the rest are magistrate and bankruptcy judges’ FDs. (This was a point we missed in our haste to get out our previous press release.)
Plus, there are several glitches and other problems with the database that Free Law Project noticed.
We’ll be working with allies in Congress to ensure the judiciary reaches full compliance by the end of the year.
3. Convince the Senate to remove unconstitutional provisions from a judicial security bill
The mostly-judiciary-drafted bill, S. 2340, is now part of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, and sections of it still obviously violate the First Amendment.
If the bill passes and Fix the Court or other group posts a judge’s date of birth, their spouse’s employment or the existence of their children and second homes, that we’d be sent a “take-down order,” which comes with civil penalties for noncompliance, is ridiculous. Also ridiculous: the bill’s creation of an unaccountable surveillance unit in DOJ trawling the Internet for people saying mean things about judges.
There’s roughly a 100% chance that the judiciary could draft a security bill that complies with the Constitution. It just hasn’t happened yet.
4. Convince House Leadership to bring the most comprehensive judicial ethics package in decades to a vote
The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which would make judicial recusal, travel, gift and amicus filing rules more exacting; require real adjudication of recusal motions; and require a SCOTUS ethics code passed House Judiciary in May.
We don’t expect the Senate to take it up, but the House passing it would put us in good shape in future Congresses.
5. Convince senators to introduce a term limits bill that’s closer to Rep. Khanna’s than Rep. Johnson’s
Both bills are improvements over the status quo and would impose an 18-year limit on future justices. Yet Johnson’s would reconstitute the quorum as the nine most recently appointed members, and our preferred method is not to clip the tenures of the current justices.
There’s currently no Senate term limits bill that would do that, and we hope to change that.