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.”
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.”