Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential contender, on Monday issued a judicial ethics plan that would close a loophole and allow misconduct investigations of federal judges to continue even if they are elevated to the Supreme Court or resign from the bench.
“It’s time to ensure that judges do not hear cases where they have conflicts of interests, strengthen our nation’s ethics rules for judges, and ensure accountability for judges who violate these rules,” Warren wrote in the proposal.
Closing the loophole would have ramifications for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has faced sexual assault allegations, which he has denied. A number of Democrats called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment last month when The New York Times reported on new allegations of sexual misconduct.
In other cases, federal judges have resigned while facing investigations. President Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump-Barry resigned from a federal appellate court in April, ending an investigation into whether she participated in an alleged tax fraud scheme. Investigations into Alex Kozinski, a former 9th Circuit judge who was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen law clerks, were dropped when Kozinski retired in 2017.
“The basic premise of our legal system is that every person is treated equally in the eyes of the law ― including judges,” Warren said on Monday. “Our judiciary only functions properly when it lives up to this promise, and it risks eroding its legitimacy when the American people lose faith that judges are ethical and fair-minded.”
Warren has long opposed the loophole, but her judicial ethics plan also includes other proposals she has not previously mentioned, including banning judges deciding for themselves whether or not a conflict of interest compels them to recuse themselves, and imposing a requirement that Supreme Court justices explain their decisions when a party asks for a recusal.
The proposal would also extend the Code of Conduct for federal judges to the Supreme Court. There is no current equivalent of the code for the high court, meaning that after 83 ethics complaints against Kavanaugh were dismissed, complainants had no mechanism to file new ones, according to Warren.
The proposal would also strengthen the code of conduct to prohibit judges from receiving speaking fees or all-expenses-paid trips from third-party organizations.
“To ensure that judges continue to interact with the public without the appearance of impropriety, my plan also establishes a modest fund to help cover reasonable expenses,” Warren wrote.