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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.”