The “Justice is BLIND Act” Would Create a Stricter, Enforceable Framework of Requirements on Federal Judges & Justices
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger yesterday helped lead the introduction of legislation to block federal judges — includes Justices serving on the Supreme Court of the United States — from holding certain financial interests and individual stocks that may present conflicts of interest with cases they are deciding, unless those assets are in a blind trust.
For decades, judges’ and justices’ holding of financial assets has created major conflicts of interest in the federal judiciary. The Wall Street Journal reviewed financial disclosures from 2010 to 2018 and found that 131 federal judges heard cases where they had a financial interest, despite existing federal law that requires judges to recuse themselves when their legal decisions may be impacted by their personal financial interests.
The Justice is Beneficial Limitation on Investments and Necessary Disclosure (BLIND) Act would require federal judges and justices — as well as their spouses and dependent children — to place individual stocks in a qualified blind trust. Spanberger has long worked to limit individual stock trading among public officials and their families — including through leading the most bipartisan and most popular proposal in Congress to ban Members of Congress from trading individual stocks.
“I’ve long made clear that public servants should be focused on serving the public, not serving their own stock portfolios,” said Spanberger. “As I continue to lead the charge alongside Democrats and Republicans to ban congressional stock trading, I’m proud to introduce this separate effort to ban judges and justices from buying and selling individual stocks. Even the mere perception of impropriety erodes the American people’s confidence in our judicial system — and federal judges, particularly our Supreme Court justices, should welcome the opportunity to show that they are invested not in their long-term personal wealth, but in the long-term strength of our republic.”
Spanberger introduced the Justice is BLIND Act alongside U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA-30) and Hank Johnson (D-GA-04), Ranking Member on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Courts Subcommittee.
“We desperately need to bring ethics back to the Supreme Court – and all our nation’s courts,” said Schiff. “That’s why I am introducing the Justice is BLIND Act, to help ensure that federal judges and justices are making decisions based on the law, and not because of any personal financial interest. Our bill will require that all financial investments and assets owned by judges do not influence their decisions, and are held in a blind trust.”
“We need to trust that judges are deciding cases based on the merits, rather than based on their pocketbooks,” said Johnson. “Judges already have a duty to recuse themselves from cases that could impact their pecuniary interests, but we have seen time and again that many fail to uphold that basic ethical obligation. That’s why we must remove all doubt by requiring federal judges, Supreme Court justices, and their families to place financial assets in a blind trust. It is the only way to ensure that justice will be served.”
Specifically, the Justice is BLIND Act would create a stricter, enforceable framework of requirements to encourage impartial decision-making by:
- Requiring federal judges and justices as well as their spouses and dependent children to place any covered financial interests in a qualified blind trust no later than 90 days after the legislation’s enactment or their assumption of office.
- Allowing federal judges and justices to remove assets from the qualified blind trust 180 days after they leave the bench.
- Barring federal judges and justices from seeking information about the financial interests placed in such a qualified blind trust beyond their initial assets.
- Requiring federal judges and justices to attest in writing that they have established a qualified blind trust and that neither they, nor their spouses or dependent children, have any financial interests.
- Requiring the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to make such attestation available on a searchable online database.
- Allowing exceptions for a widely held and diversified investment fund or a U.S. Treasury bill, note, or bond.
Spanberger’s Justice is BLIND Act is endorsed by the Center for Popular Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Demand Justice, End Citizens United, Fix the Court, Free Speech for People, Government Accountability Project, Government Information Watch, League of Conservation Voters, National Taxpayers Union, People For the American Way (PFAW), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Stand Up America, Take Back the Court, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Click here to read the full bill text.