Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has introduced legislation today to “create an Inspector General for the Judicial Branch,” according to a press release from his office. It’s called the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act.
His bill would allow for oversight of federal and appellate courts as well as the Supreme Court. It would “put in place safeguards so inspectors general do not interfere with judicial decisions.”
A similar House bill introduced by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would only cover federal and appellate courts.
- Establishes the Office of Inspector General for the Judicial Branch, who shall be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for a specific term of service of four years. Gives the Chief Justice express authority to remove the Inspector General from office.
- Specifies duties of the Inspector General, which include (1) to conduct investigations of alleged misconduct of judges in the judicial branch (Senate version includes the Supreme Court), that may require oversight or other action by Congress; (2) to conduct and supervise audits and investigations; (3) to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse; and (4) to recommend changes in laws or regulations governing the Judicial Branch.
- Provides powers for the Inspector General, which include (1) to make investigations and reports; (2) to obtain information or assistance from any Federal, State or local agency, or other entity, or unit thereof, including all information kept in the course of business by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judicial council of circuits, the administrative office of United States courts, and the United States Sentencing Commission; (3) to require, by subpoena or otherwise, the attendance for the taking of testimony of any witnesses and the production of any documents, which shall be enforceable by civil action; (4) to administer or to take an oath or affirmation from any person; (5) to employ officers and employees; (6) to obtain all necessary services; and (7) to enter into contracts or other arrangements to obtain services as needed.
- Requires the Inspector General to (1) to provide the Chief Justice and Congress with an annual report on the Inspector General’s operations; (2) to make prompt reports to the Chief Justice and to Congress on matters which may require further action; and (3) to refer to the Department of Justice any matter that may constitute a criminal violation.
- Prohibits the Inspector General from investigating or reviewing the merits of a judicial decision. The investigatory powers of the Inspector General are limited to only alleged misconduct under the “Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980.”
- Requires the Inspector General to commence an investigation only after the judiciary has conducted its review of an ethical complaint under the 1980 Act.
- Establishes whistleblower protections for individuals within the Judicial Branch.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan “should recuse herself from cases considering whether the new healthcare law is constitutional, according to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah),” The Hill reports.
Hatch, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that it would be most appropriate for Kagan to decline participation in cases on healthcare reform. Kagan served as President Obama’s solicitor general before being named to the high court.
"I think that Kagan, who was the solicitor general at the time this was all done, probably should recuse herself, which means it might not be resolved by the Supreme Court," Hatch said Wednesday evening on Fox News. "That means the lower court decision will be the acting law."
If Kagan “were to recuse herself, it would presumably tip the court’s scales toward conservatives, since Kagan is seen as a more liberal jurist likely to uphold the law.”
But Hatch, in speculating on how other justices might vote, said he wasn’t sure that the outcome would necessarily be a close, 5-4 decision.
"I’m not convinced it has to go 5-4," he said. "I actually believe there are justices like Breyer and Ginsburg, and of course Kennedy, who will go with the four justices who are considered a little more conservative."
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will offer legislation “to seek a quick U.S. Supreme Court decision on the divisive dispute over the new health-care law,” according to a press release from his office.
Nelson’s legislation asks the Senate to approve a resolution calling on the High Court to act quickly, because the lower courts have split over whether the law is constitutional.
Nelson, a member of the Senate Finance Committee that helped craft the law, said he personally favors fixing it, not throwing it away. He doesn’t want insurance companies to be able to drop someone simply because they get sick; and, he doesn’t want to take away the extra prescription-drug coverage seniors are now getting.
Regardless, the law will have to meet court tests. So, Nelson’s resolution asks the Supreme Court to act immediately and make a quick decision on the lawsuits challenging the new health-care law. Then, Nelson said, Congress could move forward in one direction or another.
Resolution text here.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) "Wednesday introduced legislation to permit retired Supreme Court justices to sit on the Court by designation in cases where an active justice has recused," according to a press release.
Under Leahy’s proposed legislation, the Court would have the authority to designate and assign former Justices to sit on cases where an active justice has recused himself or herself. The legislation requires a majority of active Justices to vote to designate and assign a retired Justice in such cases.
The proposed legislation would also allow the Court to preempt potential 4:4 split decisions, in which the decision of a lower court stands.
(credit image – daylife/getty)
Kind of an interesting story from POLITICO. Here’s the whole thing:
When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid out his opposition to Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, someone in the chamber appeared to be moving around in his chair, gasping and rolling his eyes.
It was Sen. Al Franken.
Moments before Kagan’s confirmation vote Thursday, the Minnesota Democrat was presiding over the Senate — and the Kentucky Republican thought the freshman senator was mocking his speech. Upon the conclusion of his remarks, a very irritated McConnell removed his microphone, approached the dais and confronted the former comedian.
"This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al," McConnell told Franken sternly, according to people who overheard the exchange.
Franken later apologized to McConnell.
“The leader thought I was disrespectful while he was giving his speech on General Kagan,” Franken said in a statement to POLITICO. “He is entitled to give his speech with the presiding officer just listening respectfully. I went directly to his office after I was done presiding to apologize in person. He wasn’t there, so I’ve sent him a handwritten note.”
(credit image – daylife/associated press)