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Fair Courts E-Lert: Judiciary Accountability Act, SCOTUS Approval Rating Dips, and Delaying Evictions

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights a bill introduced in Congress to provide workplace protections for federal court staff, poll results finding a dip in the Supreme Court’s approval rating, and more.

Last Updated: August 13, 2021
Published: September 29, 2021

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Protect Federal Judiciary Workers

On July 29, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress introduced a bill in both the House and Senate that would ensure “the more than 30,000 employees of the federal judiciary have strong statutory rights and protections against discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and other forms of workplace misconduct.”

The bill, the Judiciary Accountability Act, would give federal court staff the same rights and protections provided to most workers under federal statutes like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other things, the bill would require the judiciary to send regular reports to Congress about its hiring practices and any reports of workplace misconduct. The legislation would also establish a Commission on Judicial Integrity, which would be tasked with overseeing a workplace misconduct program, including regular employee training and a confidential reporting system.

The introduction of the Judiciary Accountability Act follows an outpouring of reports of sexual harassment in the federal judiciary. This spring, the Brennan Center convened a conversation about the treatment and selection of federal law clerks, which can be viewed here.

SCOTUS Approval Rating Dips to 49 Percent, Down from 58 Percent in 2020

The Supreme Court’s approval rating dipped below 50 percent this year for the first time since 2017, according to a newly released Gallup poll.

The new poll, conducted between July 6 and July 21, found that 49 percent of Americans approved of the court’s job performance, while 44 percent disapproved and 7 percent expressed no opinion. Last year, the court’s approval rating was 58 percent, a record high since 2009.

This year’s findings mark the first time since 2017 that the court’s approval rating fell below 50 percent. In 2017, the court’s overall approval rating was 49 percent, but Gallup found a wide gap in approval by party: 65 percent of Republicans approved of the court’s performance, compared to 40 percent of Democrats.

This year, unlike in 2017, support for the court was down across party lines, with all three groups giving the court “lower approval ratings than they did a year ago, including a nine-percentage-point decline among Republicans, 11 points among independents and five points among Democrats.”

Rising Covid-19 Cases Prompt Changes to Some State and Federal Court Proceedings

State and federal courts across the country are responding to the rise in Covid-19 cases, with some courts reinstituting recently lifted safety precautions and others continuing their plans to return to in-person proceedings.

According to Law360, several state courts — including in California, Colorado, Florida, and Indiana — have reinstated mask mandates, while courts in Alaska and Texas have suspended in-person jury trials. In New York, court staff will be required to get vaccinated or get tested regularly for the virus. At the same time, some courts are relaxing their safety measures. Courts in California and Illinois, for example, are easing their social distancing requirements.  

Federal courts are also putting Covid-19 precautions back into place. According to Bloomberg Law, several district courts, including the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the Middle District of Georgia, have reissued mask mandates, and some federal courts, like the Northern District of Illinois and the District of Rhode Island, are requiring employees to get vaccinated or undergo regular Covid-19 testing.

The Brennan Center has released guiding principles for policymakers to consider when making decisions about the use of remote court proceedings.

Attorney General Garland Encourages State Supreme Court Justices to Stop or Delay Evictions

The pandemic and rising Covid-19 infections have prompted increased concerns about evictions, which were amplified by the expiration of the national eviction moratorium on August 1. The CDC issued a new, more limited moratorium on August 3 which will last until October 3. This moratorium, which applies to the counties where 90 percent of the U.S. population lives, was immediately challenged in federal court by landlords and real estate groups.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland held a remote meeting with 35 state supreme court justices to encourage them to do everything in their power to prevent or delay evictions by making sure landlords and tenants have access to federal rental relief funds, according to the New York Times. State justices also “asked federal officials to prioritize the role of the judiciary in all aid programs — to allow state courts to more easily tap into relief money to hire landlord-tenant mediators and navigators to assist tenants who cannot afford counsel to understand their rights in court. 

According to the Associated Press, “As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months.”