Roberts calls for judicial independence in year-end report

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts called for judicial independence in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary, saying it is crucial to maintaining public trust in the courts.

“The Judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and coequal branch of government,” Roberts wrote in his 2021 year-end report on the federal judiciary, which was released on Friday. 

Roberts, who has been focused on the Supreme Court’s image throughout his tenure and voted twice to uphold the Affordable Care Act, did not mention President Biden’s commission that has looked at restructuring the court by adding justices. 

Biden has faced pressure from the left to add justices after former President Trump nominated three justices during his term, including replacing liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a more conservative justice. Trump’s picks were confirmed by a GOP Senate that blocked former President Obama from appointing his final nominee, Merrick Garland. 

Roberts did address a series of stories in The Wall Street Journal about federal judges considering cases involving companies that they or their families owned stock in. He said the federal judiciary should consider such matters seriously, but Roberts emphasized that the report suggested there had been few actual ethical lapses.

He wrote that the articles said that “between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges participated in a total of 685 matters involving companies in which they or their families owned shares of stock.”

“For most of the judges involved (a total of 83 of the 131), the Journal reported one or two lapses over the nine-year period,” Roberts said in the report. “Those sorts of isolated violations likely entailed unintentional oversights in which the judge’s conflict-checking procedures failed to reveal the financial conflict.”

Roberts also wrote that it was “inconsistent” with a federal ethics statute that requires judges to recuse in any matter in which he or she knows of personal financial interest, according to the annual report.  

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously,” Roberts wrote. “We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule.”

Roberts also wrote about how judiciary leaders have taken steps to improve reporting on harassment and discrimination allegations, mentioning the expansion of the Office of Judicial Integrity and the hiring of workplace relations directors in every federal circuit.  

“Nevertheless, new protections could help ensure that every court employee enjoys a workplace free from incivility and disrespect,” Roberts wrote.

The Supreme Court is set for an eventful 2022, with a key ruling expected that some believe could severely restrict abortion rights.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Joe Biden John Roberts Merrick Garland Obama Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court

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