U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges will be required to provide greater public disclosure of any free trips, meals or gifts they receive under new regulations adopted at the urging of lawmakers and judicial transparency advocates.
The head of the federal judiciary’s administrative arm confirmed the change in a letter made public on Tuesday by Democratic U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has argued for broader ethics reforms at the Supreme Court.
He and other Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics, strengthen recusal standards for judges and bolster financial disclosure requirements.
“These new rules will make it much harder for justices to travel, dine, hunt or vacation for free at the private resort of a wealthy corporate executive – especially one with business before their court – and avoid disclosing that information to the public,” Whitehouse said in a statement.
Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges are required, like certain other government officials, to complete financial disclosure reports annually.
Congress last year passed legislation further requiring judges to periodically file reports disclosing stock trades.
Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the judiciary’s disclosure rules had long been more relaxed than other branches of government, particularly when it came to defining what constituted “personal hospitality” that judges did not have to disclose.
The new regulations were adopted on March 23 by a committee of the Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policymaking body, and were detailed in a letter to Whitehouse by U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Under the new regulations, judges still will not have to disclose gifts that include food, lodging or entertainment extended by an individual for a non-business purpose.
But the regulations clarify that judges must disclose stays at commercial properties, like hotels and resorts, and gifts of hospitality paid for by an entity or third-party other than the person providing it.