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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) speaks during a news conference with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to announce legislation that would tax the net worth of America's wealthiest individuals at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Condemning 'Stunning' Ethics Violations, Warren and Jayapal Demand Answers on US Judges With Financial Conflicts

"These conflicts of interest have affected hundreds of cases and the integrity of the justice system," the lawmakers said in a letter.

Jenna McGuire

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal demanded answers on Thursday from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in response to a report that hundreds of federal judges had failed to recuse themselves from cases in which they had financial conflicts.
 
In a letter to Roberts, Reuters reported, the Democratic lawmakers questioned whether Roberts had done enough in his role as the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference of the United States to uphold the integrity of the federal judiciary and enforce ethic rules.
 

"A decisive response from the judiciary is urgent and necessary."

Warren and Jayapal cite a Wall Street Journal report that revealed 131 judges failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family members owned stock—a scope of ethics violations the lawmakers called "stunning."
 
The letter cites legal precedents from the code of conduct that require judges to recuse themselves from all cases where financial interest is involved, calling the extensive ethic breaches, at least in part, "a direct result of the inadequate processes for judicial accountability."
 
"These conflicts of interest have affected hundreds of cases and the integrity of the justice system," the letter reads.
 
The letter references other instances in which Supreme Court justices similarly did not recuse themselves from cases despite potential financial conflicts, including through ownership of individual stock, as further evidence of a "systemic failure that requires accountability."
 
Warren and Jayapal argued that their comprehensive ethics legislation—the Anti-Corruption & Public Integrity Act—if passed—would close the large gaps in the U.S. judicial ethics system by requiring public release of disclosure reports, overhauling the recusal system, and barring judges from owning individual stocks.
 
While emphasizing that Congress should pass those reforms, the lawmakers added that "a decisive response from the judiciary is urgent and necessary."
 
They asked Roberts to provide information on why the 131 judges failed to disqualify themselves and what actions the judiciary was taking in response to the report.
 
"Over 131 judges violated federal law and ethics rules by overseeing cases in which they had personal financial interests," Warren tweeted. "Rep. Pramila Jayapal and I want answers from Chief Justice Roberts about what he's doing in response to uphold the integrity of the judiciary."

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