Two Democratic congressmen questioned whether U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had done enough to enforce ethics laws by requesting information on justices’ failures to disqualify themselves from cases in which they had financial conflicts.
A Wall Street Journal analysis found that 131 judges failed to recuse themselves from cases involving corporations in which they or their family relationships had shares, prompting Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington to express their concerns.
The senators said the “shocking” study “would legitimately erode public trust in the justice system” in a letter to Roberts, who serves as the presiding officer of the U.S. Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policymaking body.
They noted prior examples of Supreme Court justices refusing to remove themselves from cases despite apparent financial conflicts as evidence of a “systemic failing that warrants responsibility.”
The MPs wrote in the letter that “these broad ethics violations are, at least in part, a direct outcome of the deficient systems for judicial accountability.”
Roberts could not be reached for comment right away.
Following the study, the head of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts said in a note that she was asking employees to investigate ways to strengthen the conflict screening process.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives have already stated that they will convene hearings to look into the concerns raised by the newspaper and reintroduce legislation to improve judicial financial disclosures.
Warren and Jayapal wrote on Thursday that financial disclosure reports are not currently available online and that parties are discouraged from obtaining copies since judges are alerted of such requests.
Warren and Jayapal advocated for legislation that would require public publication of disclosure reports and prohibit judges from owning individual stocks, both of which they support.
They also urged the judiciary to act independently, adding that “a strong reaction from the judiciary is vital and imperative.”
They demanded answers from Roberts on why the 131 judges failed to disqualify themselves if the judiciary was aware of any justices who had failed to do so, and what steps the judiciary was doing in response to the report.
They also wanted to know if Roberts and his colleagues would commit to disqualifying themselves from cases in which they had financial conflicts of interest and adopting a code of conduct. The conflict-of-interest guidelines for judges do not apply to the justices of the Supreme Court.
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