Biden's new ethics and transparency law for Supreme Court judges: Explained
- Joe Biden on Friday signed a new law on ethics and transparency for federal judges and Supreme Court justices
- The law introduces several financial disclosure requirement
- It is expected to improve transparency and accountability
US President Joe Biden on Friday signed a law to increase financial disclosure requirements for both Supreme Court justices and federal judges, a move that experts say is an attempt at meaningful reform amid growing dissatisfaction with the judiciary.
The new law, aptly named the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, comes amid growing calls for judicial reform after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggested that the apex court is poised to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade decision.
The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act introduces several new mandates, which are explained below.
What rules does the new law impose?
The new law mandates the creation of a public, online database containing the financial disclosures of both Supreme Court justices and federal judges that can be accessed by anyone at will.
This law requires this public database to be set up within 180 days of enactment, and mandates all financial disclosures by judges and SCOTUS justices to be uploaded within 90 days of the May 15 filing deadline each year.
Further, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act also introduces the same financial disclosure rules for federal judges and SCOTUS justices as those followed by members of Congress: these rules require any security trades above $1,000 to be disclosed within 45 days of the deal.
How is it different from what is currently happening?
While SCOTUS justices and federal judges are already required to file financial disclosures each year, there are issues with due process: according to legal experts interviewed by TIME, these disclosures are typically released years after their date of filing, and aren't uploaded online, thereby making them largely inaccessible for public scrutiny.
By imposing a strict limit on the window for uploading financial disclosures online, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act seeks to increase both transparency and accountability.
Why enact the law now?
While Biden signed the law on Friday, it is part of a much larger bipartisan push for judicial reform, calls for which have intensified overt the past year over damning reports of judicial misconduct.
In September last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed that 130 federal judges had violated both US law and judicial ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which either they or their family members owned stock. The WSJ also found that since 2010, federal judges had failed to recuse themselves from 685 cases in which they had a conflict of interest, something that is ethically and legally required of the judiciary.
More recently, the Washington Post also released a report on SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas' wife's support of former President Donald Trump's claims of election fraud in 2020, a report that once again exposed judicial misconduct and led to calls by Democrats for Thomas to recuse himself from cases dealing with the January 6 insurrection in Washington DC.
In light of these developments, "there’s been more action on judicial ethics in the last few months than there’s been in the last 40 years," TIME quoted Gabe Roth as saying. Roth is the executive director of the judicial reform advocacy group Fix the Court, which was involved in the crafting of the new law.