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Fair Courts E-Lert: House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Sexual Harassment in the Federal Judiciary

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights a congressional hearing on sexual harassment in the federal judiciary, President Trump’s attacks on a federal judge over Roger Stone’s sentencing, and more.

Last Updated: February 21, 2020
Published: July 15, 2021

Federal Courts

House Judi­ciary Commit­tee Holds Hear­ing on Sexual Harass­ment in the Federal Judi­ciary

On Febru­ary 13, the House Judi­ciary Subcom­mit­tee on Courts, Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty, and the Inter­net held a hear­ing on protect­ing federal judi­ciary employ­ees from sexual harass­ment, discrim­in­a­tion, and other work­place miscon­duct.

Among those who submit­ted testi­mony was Olivia Warren, a former law clerk to the late Judge Stephen Rein­hardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In her testi­mony, Warren described the sexual harass­ment she faced while clerking for Judge Rein­hardt. She also test­i­fied that the aven­ues for report­ing such miscon­duct preven­ted her from feel­ing as though she could come forward with her exper­i­ence, saying “[the] rules that were imple­men­ted in 2019 follow­ing recom­mend­a­tions from the Federal Judi­ciary Work­place Conduct Work­ing Group … did not appear to provide a truly confid­en­tial option to report harass­ment or miscon­duct and it was unclear to me what would happen if I proceeded with report­ing through any of the aven­ues offered.”

Follow­ing the hear­ing, Judge Carlos Murguia of the U.S. District Court of Kansas, who received a public reprim­and for alleg­a­tions of sexual harass­ment and miscon­duct in 2018, announced his resig­na­tion.

Pres­id­ent Trump Attacks Federal Judge Presid­ing Over Former Advisor Roger Stone’s Senten­cing

On Febru­ary 20, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jack­son sentenced Pres­id­ent Trump’s long­time friend and former advisor Roger Stone to 40 months in prison, as well as 2 years of proba­tion, for lying to Congress, witness tamper­ing, and obstruct­ing a House invest­ig­a­tion. 

Judge Jack­son’s ruling comes after federal prosec­utors initially recom­men­ded Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. On Febru­ary 11 and 18, Trump turned to Twit­ter to share his disap­proval with the recom­mend­a­tion and attacked Judge Jack­son.

Follow­ing Trump’s tweets, the Depart­ment of Justice (DOJ) indic­ated it would seek a shorter sentence for Stone, prompt­ing all four prosec­utors to with­draw from the case, includ­ing one who resigned from the depart­ment completely. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell also issued a public state­ment in support of Judge Jack­son, saying “[p]ublic criti­cism or pres­sure is not a factor” for judges when senten­cing defend­ants.

The Federal Judges Asso­ci­ation was sched­uled to hold an emer­gency meet­ing on Febru­ary 19 to discuss Trump’s and the DOJ’s inter­fer­ence in Stone’s senten­cing, but the meet­ing was post­poned indef­in­itely without explan­a­tion, accord­ing to CNN

Demo­cratic Senat­ors Accuse Depart­ment of Justice of Under­min­ing the Inde­pend­ence of Immig­ra­tion Courts

On Febru­ary 13, nine Demo­cratic members of the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee sent a letter to Attor­ney General William Barr accus­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion of “under­min­ing the inde­pend­ence of immig­ra­tion courts and misman­aging their admin­is­tra­tion.”

In the letter, the senat­ors argued that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has sought to influ­ence case outcomes by enact­ing policies that restrict immig­ra­tion judges (e.g., impos­ing case quotas and elim­in­at­ing judge’s abil­ity to admin­is­trat­ively end cases), hiring partisan judges, and shift­ing the power to decide cases from immig­ra­tion judges to the Attor­ney General. “The United States deserves an immig­ra­tion court system that is inde­pend­ent, impar­tial, and func­tional,” the senat­ors concluded.

Accord­ing to NPR, the senat­ors’ comments are similar to those expressed by former and current immig­ra­tion judges and that of Ashley Tabaddor, the pres­id­ent of the National Asso­ci­ation of Immig­ra­tion Judges, who test­i­fied before a House Judi­ciary Commit­tee last month that immig­ra­tion courts “must be free from the constantly chan­ging (often diamet­ric­ally opposed) politi­cized policy direct­ives of the Depart­ment of Justice.”

State Courts

Bren­nan Center Releases Update to Report on State Supreme Court Diversity

On Febru­ary 20, the Bren­nan Center released an update to its report, State Supreme Court Diversity, with the most recent data on the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of state supreme courts across the coun­try.

Since data was last collec­ted in May, there have been 19 open­ings on state supreme courts across the coun­try, 14 of which have been filled. Of these 14 seats, half are held by white men, with four in states where people of color repres­ent at least 30 percent of the popu­la­tion. Of the remain­ing seven seats, four were filled by white women, one by a Black woman, and two by Native Amer­ican justices, one male and one female.

Twenty-three states have an all-white state supreme court bench. Nation­wide, people of color hold 15.5 percent of state supreme court seats. Women occupy 37 percent of the state supreme court benches across the coun­try. Four­teen states have one female justice on their high courts, and one state, Flor­ida, has none. The report’s authors write, “More must be done to achieve diversity on the bench, includ­ing increas­ing profes­sional oppor­tun­it­ies for under­rep­res­en­ted groups and address­ing racial dispar­it­ies in judi­cial elec­tions.”  

Federal Court Upholds Alabama’s at-Large Statewide System of Elect­ing Appel­late Judges

On Febru­ary 5, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama issued a ruling uphold­ing the state’s at-large, statewide system of elect­ing appel­late judges. The chal­lenge, brought by the Alabama NAACP and four indi­vidual voters, argued that Alabama’s method for elect­ing appel­late judges diluted Black voting strength in viol­a­tion of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Four­teenth and Fifteenth Amend­ments’ prohib­i­tion against inten­tional racial discrim­in­a­tion.

In his 210-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins observed, “[n]otwith­stand­ing the recent minimal repres­ent­a­tion of black-preferred candid­ates on Alabama’s appel­late courts, the evid­ence demon­strates that reas­ons other than race better explain the defeat of black-preferred candid­ates in Alabama’s appel­late judi­cial races.” He contin­ued, “Alabama’s at-large, statewide system of elect­ing appel­late judges today is benign of racial hostil­ity, either overt or covertly lurk­ing in the recesses of [Section] 2, and is not racially discrim­in­at­ory either in its adop­tion or main­ten­ance.”