Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Deborah Ross’ (NC-02) legislation, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Introduced by Representatives Ross, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the legislation will require online publication of financial disclosure reports for federal judges and mandate that federal judges submit periodic transaction reports for certain securities transactions. Following reporting in the Wall Street Journal that more than 130 federal judges heard cases in which they or their families held stock in a company involved in the case, this legislation will strengthen judicial ethics and transparency and restore trust in the nation’s courts.
“Every American needs to have faith that our courts will carry out fair, impartial justice,” said Congresswoman Ross. “The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act will increase transparency, accountability, and trust in the American promise of blind justice. Recent reporting has exposed deep flaws in our judicial ethics and recusal laws that we have a duty to remedy. This bill will ensure that federal judges face the same financial transaction disclosure requirements as members of the legislative and executive branches of government, eliminating an unwarranted double standard. I’m glad we accomplished this in a bipartisan way and look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to ensure this legislation is enacted.”
“No part of our foundation of law and order can succeed without the considered, continuous and constant work of judges – and that’s why an impartial and evenhanded judiciary is imperative,” said Rep. Issa. “Under the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, we will equalize the accountability of our third branch of government to the same standard of elected officials – and to the benefit of our system of justice.”
“Transparency and ethics are vital to the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s trust in our courts; however, recent reporting has shown that our federal judiciary has operated with much secrecy and minimal accountability for far too long,” said Chairman Nadler. “I am very proud that the House came together to address this issue by passing the bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which makes incremental but necessary progress toward accountability by building on federal statutes that prohibit judges from deciding cases in which they have a personal financial stake in the outcome. The simple, long-overdue solutions included in this bill will bring necessary transparency to our nation's courts, and will help ensure judges remain impartial and cases are decided fairly. I thank Representative Deborah Ross for her leadership on this important issue and for her work in bringing this legislation one step closer to becoming law.”
“Thanks to thorough reporting by The Wall Street Journal and the quick work of our Courts Subcommittee, we know that several federal judges have fallen short of their conflict-of-interest obligations,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. “They’ve broken the public’s trust. By passing our bipartisan, bicameral bill, we can give the judiciary the tools it clearly needs to enhance accountability and transparency and to begin to restore the public’s faith in the integrity of our courts.”
“Trust in our judicial system demands clear impartiality of the judges,” said Congressman Roy. “The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act is a great step in providing parity to the Judiciary and putting Judges on par with the Executive and Legislative branch’s public financial disclosure rules. I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of Senators and House Members on this legislation and I encourage my colleagues to support this bill.”
Congresswoman Ross spoke on the House floor in support of her legislation here.
Senate companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Kennedy (R-La.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act would require that federal judges’ financial disclosure reports be made publicly available online, and require federal judges to submit periodic transaction reports of securities transactions in line with other federal officials under the STOCK Act. The bill would amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to:
- Require the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to create a searchable online database of judicial financial disclosure forms and post those forms within 90 days of being filed, and
- Subject federal judges to the STOCK Act’s requirement of filing periodic transaction reports within 45 days of securities transactions over $1,000.
Importantly, the bill also preserves the existing ability of judges to request redactions of personal information on financial disclosure reports due to a security concern.
Under current ethics guidelines and federal law, federal judges are prohibited from hearing cases that involve a party in which they, their spouse, or their minor children have a financial interest. Federal judges are instead required to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality may be questioned. Despite this, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that between 2010 and 2018, more than 130 federal judges failed to recuse themselves in nearly 700 cases in which they or an immediate family member held stock in a company involved in the case.
While federal judges are required to submit financial disclosure reports, current law does not provide sufficient transparency for litigants to research whether a judge has a conflict of interest. The current process for obtaining judicial financial disclosure forms can be cumbersome and take months or even years. By contrast, financial disclosure reports for the President, Members of Congress, and Presidential-appointed and Senate-confirmed officials are readily-available and searchable online.
By providing litigants with real-time access to judges’ financial disclosures and securities transactions, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act would help preserve the integrity of judicial proceedings, ensure judges recuse themselves when there’s a potential conflict of interest, and provide litigants and the public with greater confidence in the judicial system.
Bill text can be found here.