Chief Justice John Roberts makes a public commitment to investigate and reform procedures on how federal judiciary handles sexual harassment, misconduct. This historic move could lead the way for broader reform, and increased accountability in the judicial system, overall.
In the annual 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice John Roberts said he takes seriously allegations of sexual harassment occurring in the judiciary, and will assemble a work group to investigate and make recommendations for change.
Chief Justice Roberts asserted in the Year-End Report (p. 11), “We have a new challenge in the coming year. Events in recent months have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made clear that the judicial branch is not immune. The judiciary will begin 2018 by undertaking a careful evaluation of whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee...” 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary
This, in response, after a group of 695 former and current law clerks sent Justice Roberts a letter on December 20, 2017 stating that “significant changes are necessary” to address the potential of harassment occurring in the federal court system. The letter also requested changes in the complaint process against federal judges to ensure that those raising concerns are heard and protected from retaliation. Letter Urging Investigation, Reform in Fed Judiciary Policies on Sexual Harassment, Misconduct 12/20/2017
The letter also offers ideas for improvement, including creating a work group to address sexual harassment in the federal judiciary and develop appropriate procedures and policies to address the issues. Recommendations for the work group include inviting individuals of diverse racial backgrounds and a mix of gender to participate. The work group should also include judges, current and former law clerks and judiciary employees among its members.
Recently, national attention turned to sexual harassment from judges after Alex Kozinski, a high-profile Federal court appeals judge from the 9th Circuit, resigned from his position after 32 years due to allegations of sexual harassment. Several former law clerks claimed that Kozinski showed them pornography or made graphic sexual comments to them. Kozinski has since apologized.
Protection for court employees remains a critical issue when raising a complaint of sexual harassment or other judicial misconduct, as a noticeable imbalance of power exists between judges and staff, that causes many to feel that they have nowhere to go with a problem because the judge has all the power.
Federal judges have lifetime tenure, but can be removed from the bench through impeachment. 15 federal judges have been impeached since 1803 – of that number 8 judges were convicted by the Senate, 4 judges were acquitted by the Senate, and 3 judges resigned before the conclusion of a trial. Ballotpedia – Impeachment of Federal Judges
The efforts lead by Chief Justice Roberts have the potential to encourage further reform, and increase accountability, in the judiciary, overall. This may, in turn, extend to other areas of the court, such as family court.
There is a growing public interest in judicial reform and increased accountability in the court system. Instead of relying on the judiciary or the government to regulate itself, a growing number American citizens, organizations are seeking to be heard, and have a role, in the reforms that take place. Hopefully the efforts lead by Chief Justice Roberts will provide the American citizenry with that opportunity.
Chief Justice Roberts says courts will examine protections against sexual harassment (Washington Post)
Law Clerks Say Federal Judiciary Isn’t Equipped To Handle Sexual Harassment (Huff Post)
Nearly 700 Law Clerks Tell Judiciary to Reform Sexual Harassment Procedures (Connecticut Law Tribune)
Roberts: Judicial branch ‘not immune’ from sexual harassment issues (Politico)