Hundreds of federal judges, all across the country, broke the law by hearing cases where they owned the stock of one of the litigants, according to recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal. That’s a serious violation of judicial ethics, and it goes against the basic principle of equal justice under the law that underpins our judicial system.
The fact that this problem is so widespread and pervasive means that it can’t be solved by judges simply disclosing more about their financial holdings or being more proactive about recusing themselves. Those steps are important, but Congress must be bolder: first, Congress should prohibit judges from owning or trading any individual stocks, and second, Congress should apply the federal criminal conflict of interest statute to the judiciary. CREW submitted a comment to the House Judiciary Committee laying out why they should take these bold steps to restore public confidence in federal judges.
Judges would not have to give up all forms of investments under these proposed rules. Judges could set up a blind trust, or invest in index or mutual funds, which would avoid potential conflicts, and which is a small price to pay for the extraordinary power and privileges we give federal judges.
These changes would mean that Americans would never have to worry about a judge having financial conflicts of interest, and they’d know that if a judge did violate this principle of equal justice under the law, they could actually be held accountable. Congress should enact these reforms swiftly.