October 14, 2021

Warren, Jayapal, In Letter to Chief Justice Roberts, Raise Concerns After Recent Report Reveals Dozens of Judicial Ethics Violations

Chief Justice is Head of Judicial Conference, Which Sets Rules for Federal Judges 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts regarding a recent Wall Street Journal report that over 131 federal judges have violated federal law and ethics guidelines by overseeing cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned individual stock. In the letter, the lawmakers ask the Chief Justice, who serves as the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference of the United States, about the Judicial Conference’s response to the Wall Street Journal’s findings, the causes of the violations, other ethics breaches known to the Judicial Conference, and the Supreme Court’s ethics commitments.

“These actions raise questions about the judgment and integrity of these individuals and will justifiably reduce public confidence in the justice system. Likewise, they raise questions about whether you have done enough in your role as the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference of the United States to establish and enforce ethics rules and uphold the integrity of the federal judiciary,” wrote the lawmakers.

On September 28, 2021, the Wall Street Journal revealed extensive violations of 28 U.S.C. § 455 and Canon 3 of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges among the federal judiciary. Federal judges must disqualify themselves from proceedings when they, their spouses, or their minor children have a “financial interest in … a party to the proceeding … , however small.” But between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges failed to properly recuse themselves from at least 685 cases in which they or their family members owned the stock of companies before them. The judges’ violations -- in addition to documented recusal failures by Justices of the Supreme Court --  raise serious questions about the federal judiciary’s systems of ethics and accountability.

In the letter, the lawmakers highlight that their bill, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, would close gaps in the judicial ethics system and restore public trust in the federal judiciary by enhancing transparency, overhauling the recusal system, eliminating the possibility of the most troubling financial conflicts like those described by the Journal, and establishing real consequences for violations of federal ethics laws.

Senator Warren has long called for the need to strengthen ethics standards to root out corruption in Washington and the federal judiciary. Last week, Senator Warren called out the culture of corruption among high-ranking Federal Reserve officials during a speech on the Senate Floor following recent reports of ethically questionable financial activity. Senator Warren also called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate securities trades by Federal Reserve officials to determine if they may have violated insider trading rules. Senator Warren also urged 12 regional Fed Presidents to adopt stricter ethics rules after troubling reports of trading by two Fed Presidents.