Legislation that will require Supreme Court and federal judges to quickly post their stock trades and financial holdings online passed unanimously in the Senate, The Wall Street Journal reports. The bill is en route to the House now, where similar legislation passed there with an overwhelming majority in December.
The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act had bipartisan sponsorship from Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in an effort to increase transparency and detect conflict-of-interest violations. Last year, the Journal exposed more than 130 judges who heard cases they had a financial interest in, thereby breaking the law. In almost all the cases, the litigants had no idea of the judges’ conflicts, a key point in the bill which would give litigants access to that information.
The new law requires judges to post online both stock-trade reports and annual disclosure report forms within 90 days of filing. As of now, stock-trade reports aren’t required to be posted at all, and annual reports aren’t due until May of the following year. Congress and other senior administration officials have long had to report their stock trades under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, and “[f]ederal judges should never have been excluded [from that law],” Senator Cornyn said in a statement.
Supreme Court justices have never been required to report their financial transactions, though Chief Justice John Roberts recently said that justices voluntarily comply with regulations put out for federal judges. But the new law would include Supreme Court judges in its scope, and the Supreme Court has not publicly given a position on the legislation. The law would also apply to bankruptcy and magistrate judges.
If enacted, the database for reporting would be required to be up and running within 180 days, though an extension is possible with written consent from Congress. While the House hasn’t given an indication on whether it will pass the bill or not, Representative Deborah Ross (D-NC) complimented its passage in the Senate as a move toward transparency and accountability to the American people. Senator Coons said in a statement, quoted by the Journal, “The bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act will help ensure that our legal system is free from conflicts of interest so that everyone can have clarity and confidence when they enter a courtroom.”