House to vote on bill requiring judicial, federal judges to follow financial disclosure

House to vote on bill requiring judicial, federal judges to follow financial disclosure

A bipartisan bill that would subject U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges to tougher disclosure requirements for their financial holdings and stock trades is expected to win congressional approval on Wednesday.

The House of RepresentativesHouse of Representatives is going to vote on legislation passed by the Senate that would make it easier for the public to see if a member of the federal judiciary has a financial conflict of interest that would warrant being recused from hearing a case.

The House is expected to pass the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, approved by the Senate in February. The Democratic-led chamber in December approved a version of the bill with slight differences on a 422 -- 4 vote in a rare show of bipartisanship. After House passage, it would go to President Joe Biden for his signature.

In October of this year, the legislation was introduced, after the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 130 federal judges had failed to recuse themselves from cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.

Representative Deborah Ross, a Democrat from North Carolina who sponsored the House's version, said it was "absolutely unacceptable." The judiciary should be subject to the same requirements as the legislative and executive branches. Congress is facing public pressure to impose controls on financial transactions by its own members, including banning them from buying and selling stocks, though that effort is not very far along. Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic House Speaker, said she expected a proposal to address that concern in the near future. The legislation that is going to the house on Wednesday comes despite efforts by the judiciary to police itself after the Journal's report by bolstering ethics training and adopting a new system to process disclosure reports, steps some lawmakers have called inadequate.

The bill calls for federal judges to follow similar disclosure requirements as lawmakers by establishing a 45 day window for judges to report stock trades of more than $1,000.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary's administrative arm, must create a searchable and publicly accessible online database of judicial disclosure forms that are posted within 90 days of being filed.

The bill covers the nine Supreme Court justices as well as federal appellate, district court, bankruptcy and magistrate judges. It calls for the database to be online within 180 days of enactment, though the judiciary can get deadline extensions.

While judges currently file annual financial disclosure reports, requests by members of the public to review them are sent to judges to decide if anything needs to be redacted and can take months or longer to fulfill.

In a year-end report in December, Justice John Roberts, the judiciary's senior-most member, said the recusal lapses the Journal identified were isolated and unintentional incidents, but said the judiciary took the concerns seriously.