Friday, April 28, 2006

2 Lawmakers Call for Judiciary Watchdog

You probably know that high school and college athletes can't accept gifts from schools interested in recruiting or retaining them. Did you also know that such prudence is not required of United States federal judges?

Senator Charles Grassley,(R-Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) want to change that. Critics of their respective plans, speaking for the federal courts, claim the kind of congressional oversight being proposed oversteps the constitutional separation of powers and asserts legislative priority over the judiciary. If only these same people would cling as closely to the founding documents on other issues. I have to admit, though, that I don't really trust an independent watchdog accountable to Congress to do any better with this sort of thing without anyone watching it.

Who watches the watchmen? New media, baby! Or as Glenn Reynolds puts it, An Army of Davids.


Anonymous Soma said...

The judiciary is not really free to do whatever it wants. While the Republican senators in the article have a point--that the judiciary's mechanisms for oversight are internal, the article doesn't really provide much background on what those mechanisms are or how well they work. I'm not really sure how well they work either, but the Federal Judiciary is overseen by a body called the Judicial Conference of the United States (, which is part of the judicial branch, and consists of the judges themselves. The conference has created a set of rules for the federal judiciary, the Codes of Conduct for United States judges ( ). If you scroll down to Canon 5C, it says that judges are requried to report the gifts they receive, and they have imposed limits on those gifts (though I can't find the document that notes the specifics). So, in a sense, the internal mechanisms in place may be depending on public scrutiny of those gifts, and I'm not entirely sure where it's actually reported and what kind of discipline they receive. So no, it's not true that federal judges can accept gifts (see Canon 5C(4)) but the Conference is vague on what kind of mechanisms are in place for disciplining judges who have accepted inappropriate gifts.

On the other hand, if someone were to ask my opinion, it would be better for Congress to amend the laws that regulate the Judicial Conference (section 331 of title 28 of the United States Code and several sections following) and make them more stringent before jumping on the external oversight bandwagon and possibly violating constitutional separation of powers. But I wouldn't deny that if not more oversight, more transparency is certainly needed.

3:52 PM  

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