Court watchers and liberal activists are calling for changes to judicial standards and requirements after an investigative report discovered 131 judges participated in cases despite having a financial conflict of interest.
The Wall Street Journal released a report this week that it said discovered nearly 700 cases between 2010 to 2018 that showed judges hearing disputes involving firms where either they or their family had interests.
“More than 130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and judicial ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock,” the Journal report read. “About two-thirds of federal district judges disclosed holdings of individual stocks, and nearly one of every five who did heard at least one case involving those stocks.”
Under the judicial code, judges are expected to recuse themselves in legal battles where it could appear that they have a conflict of interest in order to ensure each party receives impartial consideration.
In response to the investigative report, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts said the findings were “troubling” and added it was reviewing the matter.
Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said lawmakers are subject to the STOCK Act, requiring them to disclose securities transactions within 45 days, which are updated periodically online for transparency. He said the same law should be passed for members of the judiciary.
“This investigation should send a shudder through anyone who finds him or herself before a federal judge right now,” Mr. Roth said. “If we can’t trust our judges to be impartial, we’re in a bad place as a nation of laws.”
Similarly, Rakim Brooks, president of the progressive Alliance for Justice, said the Wall Street Journal’s report shows the system is giving corporations an unfair advantage. He also suggested the Supreme Court justices should be subject to the same requirements as lower-court judges.
“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,” Mr. Brooks said.
Recent polls have, in fact, shown that confidence in the Supreme Court has decreased.
A Gallup poll published last week found the Supreme Court’s approval rating dropped 9 percentage points since July, after the high court declined to block a Texas ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The poll found 40% of Americans approved of the job the high court is doing, while 53% disapproved.
Progressives have increasingly called for changes to the Supreme Court, and President Biden has created a commission to study potential reforms to the high court, including adding justices to the bench to counter the 6-3 conservative majority.
The committee is expected to release its findings in November.
• Alex Swoyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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