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Quigley, Nadler, and Johnson Introduce Legislation to Increase Judicial Transparency

Mar 2, 2020
Press Release

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (NY-10) and Representative Hank Johnson (GA-04) introduced the 21st Century Courts Act, a robust legislative plan to increase transparency in the federal court system. This legislation aims to dramatically enhance the accountability, accessibility, and transparency of the federal judiciary to improve public trust in our system.

“Faith in our democracy and in our governmental institutions can only be strengthened by increased transparency and accountability from every branch of government. That is why I was a co-founder of the Transparency Caucus and why I have championed increased transparency from federal courts throughout my time in Congress,” said Quigley. “That means that our nation’s highest court must adopt an ethics code and federal courts around the country must make their records more accessible to the public. Given the historic flaws of our judicial system, we must take steps to ensure that public trust is not eroded any further.”

“Transparency and ethics are vital to the integrity of the judiciary, and they are vital to maintaining the public’s trust in our courts, particularly as attacks on judicial independence and the rule of law have become more common,” said Chairman Nadler.  “This bill reinforces the judiciary’s commitment to ethical conduct and empowers the public to learn about the important work of our federal courts.”

The 21st Century Courts Act takes several steps to dramatically reform federal courts, including:

  • Requiring the United States Supreme Court to develop an ethics code for Justices;
  • Requiring public disclosure of all recusal decisions;
  • Modernizing Judge and Justice financial disclosures by requiring they be shared online;
  • Creating livestreaming and audio archive requirements for federal appellate and Supreme Court proceedings;
  • Modernizing the judiciary’s case management and electronic filing systems; and
  • Enhancing public access to court decisions and proceedings by making court records freely accessible to the public.

“Unlike all other federal judges, Supreme Court Justices are not bound by a code of ethics. The Supreme Court must create common-sense ethical standards to ensure public trust in this institution,” said Johnson. “When court records are only accessible to those who can afford to access them, we are excluding many Americans from the judicial system. These resources cannot just be reserved for the rich – Congress must make court proceedings available and accessible to everyone,” said Congressman Johnson.

The 21st Century Courts Act has garnered wide support from advocates for judicial reform, including the Project on Government Oversight and Fix the Court.

“For decades now it has been apparent that the federal judiciary operates with too much opacity and secrecy,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Policy Analyst with the Project On Government Oversight. “The 21st Century Courts Act will provide a long-overdue jolt of accountability and transparency to the federal courts by implementing a range of common sense reforms, including directing the Supreme Court to write an ethics code  for itself, modernizing financial disclosures, providing insight into refusal patterns  by requiring that judges explain their recusal decision, and enhancing public access to the judiciary by providing live audio streaming of court proceedings   and increasing the public’s ability to access court records. Representative Johnson, Quigley, and Nadler should be commended for leading the way on this transformational legislation.”

Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth said, "An independent judiciary requires the public’s confidence in the impartiality of judges and justices. Ensuring that the Supreme Court abides by a code of conduct, that every level of the judiciary better accounts for conflicts of interest and that all Americans have unfettered access to court documents – as this bill calls for – would go a long way toward building that confidence. The bill further recognizes that most Americans are unable to take off work and travel to a courthouse to experience appellate arguments in person and so provides for critical real-time broadcast access to these proceedings. I am grateful to Reps. Johnson, Quigley, and Nadler for demonstrating such a strong commitment to improving transparency and accountability in our federal courts.”

Quigley has long championed increased transparency from federal courts, in particular, he has called for allowing cameras in Supreme Court and federal court proceedings. Earlier this year, Quigley worked with Nadler and Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) to introduce the Eyes on the Courts Act to require cameras be permitted in the Supreme Court and all federal appellate courts.