Closing the Gap in Judicial Ethics

Source: Closing the Gap in Judicial Ethics

On Tuesday, January 29th, at 10am, Sarah Turberville, Director of The Constitution Project at POGO, testified at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019.

Thank you, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Collins, and Members of the Committee for the opportunity to speak with you today about H.R. 1, the For The People Act of 2019. My name is Sarah Turberville and I am the director of The Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight. Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing; The Constitution Project was founded in 1997 and joined POGO in 2017. We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.

Sarah Turberville, director of The Constitution Project at POGO, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on H.R. 1, the For the People Act, January 29, 2019.

Statement on H.R. 1, the For The People Act of 2019

Section 7001 of the For the People Act would close a conspicuous gap in federal ethics rules. It would require the Judicial Conference of the United States to issue a code of conduct applicable to each judge and justice of the United States, which may include provisions “that are applicable only to certain categories of judges or justices.”1 We strongly support this long-overdue ethics reform and encourage lawmakers to view this measure as a first step toward preserving the actual and perceived integrity of the federal courts.

A magnifying glass hovers over the U.S. Capitol.

A Closer Look at Ethics Reforms in HR 1, the For the People Act

This ambitious proposal, the “For the People Act,” includes many reforms that the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has long supported. For example, for years, POGO has advocated for stronger policies to ensure that high-level government officials going through the revolving door between government service and private industry do so in a way that protects government policies from undue industry influence.

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By extending a code of ethics to the Supreme Court for the first time, the legislation seeks to balance the need to enhance the public’s faith in the judiciary with the imperative to safeguard the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches. While tough questions concerning the scope and enforcement of a code of conduct for the Supreme Court may arise, the benefits of applying such a code to the justices—including the benefits that would flow to the public’s understanding and perception of the courts—far outweigh any disadvantages.

A code of conduct for all judges and justices of United States courts could increase public confidence in the legitimacy, integrity, and independence of the courts. It would also better ensure fairer application of ethics rules—perhaps with the added benefit of the justices’ closer scrutiny of their own conduct. A code of conduct for the entire federal judiciary has bipartisan support. In the last Congress, a Republican-sponsored bill contained an identical provision.2

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