AFJ Calls For Stricter Scrutiny Of Judicial Ethics

Press Release

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Carolyn Bobb

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 28, 2021 – An investigative report published yesterday by the Wall Street Journal found that at least 131 federal judges may have violated federal law and federal judicial ethics standards.  Judges are required to disqualify themselves from cases in which they have a financial interest, yet in at least 685 cases, federal judges failed to do so. Some of the federal judges reported to be in violation of federal law claimed ignorance or negligence regarding their legal and ethical obligations to disqualify themselves in lawsuits where they owned stock in a corporation set to appear before them in their courtrooms.  

The report also noted that in cases where federal judges owned stock in a corporation whose case they were presiding over, the corporations were victorious in two-thirds of all contested rulings, creating a troubling appearance of systemic conflicts of interest in these cases. While no incidents of official misconduct were alleged or corroborated in the Wall Street Journal’s report, at least 56 federal judges alerted the parties in 329 lawsuits that they should have disqualified themselves after being contacted by the news outlet. 

Alliance for Justice President Rakim Brooks issued the following statement: 

“Our justice system is built on the promise of equal justice before the law. Federal judges are the keepers of that promise and therefore have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to ensure that anyone entering their courtroom can be confident that they will receive a fair and impartial hearing. That responsibility requires the highest standards of vigilance in avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Today we learned what many of us suspected: Despite federal law and federal judicial policy, the system is not working to ensure that corporations do not receive an unfair advantage.   

“Congress and the federal judiciary must act in response to today’s news. When federal judges are too often out of compliance with critical recusal laws and statutes, the justice system confirms the public’s worst fear that it is not fair. At the same time, it is crucial to remember that the Judicial Code of Conduct does not apply to the Supreme Court.  As public approval for the Supreme Court reaches new lows, it could not be more important to right this wrong and hold the entire federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, to the highest ethical standards. If this report is any indication, there is reason to be concerned.”