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Federal Judiciary Adopts New Ethics Rules

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 14, 2019 2:00 PM

The United States judiciary adopted new ethics rules, forbidding sexual harassment, unlawful discrimination, and "egregious and hostile" treatment of workers in the federal courts.

The rules evolved from complaints about Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 after many complaints of sexual misconduct. Chief Justice John Roberts responded then to the embarrassment, promising to evaluate the judiciary's sexual misconduct policies.

The new rules, however, do not apply to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to reports, the Justices are still thinking about it.

Ethics Rules

The U.S. Judicial Conference, the policymaking arm of the federal judiciary, adopted the package of ethics rules this week. They include changes to the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees and the Judiciary Conduct and Disability Act Rules.

The rules ban conduct that is generally prohibited in laws against sexual harassment and discrimination. In addition, the rules encourage prompt reporting of judicial misconduct.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals briefed reporters on the rule changes. He said the judiciary will take the lead in conducting investigations.

"We've tried to produce an array of ways in which people can raise concerns about misconduct in the hope that that will give us warning in time to do something about bad behavior," He said. "Obviously, the idea is to fix the problem."

SCOTUS Rules

Justices of the Supreme Court are not subject to the new rules. However, the Chief Justice has discussed it with his colleagues.

Justices Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito Jr. recently told lawmakers the Justices have no formal ethics rules, but they strive to follow rules that apply to lower courts. Alito expressed some concerns.

"I think that it is inconsistent with the constitutional structure for lower court judges to be reviewing things done by Supreme Court Justices for compliance with ethical rules," he said.

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