There have been ethical lapses by federal judges, Chief Justice John Roberts has conceded. And as a workplace, the court system has not been free of discrimination and harassment, the Washington Post reports. But he cited the principle of judicial independence in arguing that courts should be left alone to police themselves. "The Judiciary's power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and co-equal branch of government," Roberts said. The chief justice made the case in his year-end report on the judiciary, which was released Friday.
Roberts referred to "topics that have been flagged by Congress and the press over the past year"—not problems the judiciary spotted on its own. Wall Street Journal reports, which he addressed, found judges' actions "inconsistent" with a statute requiring them to recuse themselves in cases in which they have a financial stake. "Between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges participated in a total of 685 matters involving companies in which they or their families owned shares of stock," Roberts wrote. Although he said that's a "99.97% compliance rate," Roberts said that the judiciary takes the issue seriously and that those 131 judges "violated an ethics rule."
Ethics training for judges will be stepped up, Roberts said, and computer software might be used to spot potential conflicts of interest. He also mentioned steps being taken to protect judiciary employees, per the Post. Legislation has been introduced that would, among other things, set up whistleblower protections for staff members. Again, Roberts said the judiciary has it under control, adding, "I appreciate that Members of Congress have expressed ongoing concerns on this important matter." Roberts is working from a position of strength: A recent poll found the chief justice has the highest popularity rating of 11 federal officials. On the other hand, per Axios, a September poll found the Supreme Court's approval rating down to 40%. (Read more John Roberts stories.)