House Hearing Shines Important Focus On Judicial Ethics
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 27, 2021 – Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Judicial Ethics and Transparency: The Limits of Existing Statutes and Rules.” The hearing followed reporting from the Wall Street Journal that at least 131 federal judges failed to disqualify themselves from at least 685 cases in which they had a financial interest in one of the parties. Alarmingly, corporations were victorious in two-thirds of contested rulings adjudicated by judges when they or their close family members held stock in those corporations, further confirming concerns the courts are stacked in favor of the wealthy and powerful.
The judicial code of conduct, as dictated both by federal law and the Judicial Conference, requires that judges disclose conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from cases in which they have an interest, however small. Yesterday’s hearing was an important opportunity to highlight how our courts have a compliance problem with these legal obligations, how they lack reliable processes for addressing judicial conflicts of interest, and how there is a persistent lack of transparency around judicial ethics.
Notably, these ethics requirements only apply to lower court judges and do not apply to the Supreme Court’s justices. With public approval of the Supreme Court at a record low of 40%, it is long past time for our nation’s highest Court to be subject to the same standards of ethical conduct as lower court judges.
Alliance for Justice President Rakim Brooks issued the following statement:
“Trust in our courts is at an all-time low primarily because the conservatives have stacked the courts with judges more likely to side with the wealthy and powerful. In such an environment, we can’t just throw up our hands and let corporations win. The American public must demand ethics and judicial reform. Serving as a federal judge should require the highest standards of vigilance to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and those standards are plainly not being met. In the case of the Supreme Court, there are currently no standards at all. And at every level, we have too many judges that are partial to corporate interests. All of this must change. So we applaud the House Judiciary Committee and Chairman Nadler for shining a light on these systemic failures, and we hope that this hearing is only the starting point for the ethics and judicial reforms we so desperately need.”