Tuesday, February 15, 2011
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Representative F. James Sensenbrenner (WI-05) today introduced legislation in both the House and the Senate to create an Inspector General for the Judicial Branch.
The House bill would cover only the federal and appellate courts while the Senate bill would allow the Inspector General to also conduct oversight of the Supreme Court. The bills put in place safeguards so inspectors general do not interfere with judicial decisions. The legislation also includes whistleblower protections for individuals within the judicial branch.
Grassley and Sensenbrenner said that increased credibility within the judicial branch of government would be greatly enhanced with an independent watchdog shedding light on waste, fraud and abuse within the federal judiciary. The 2006 Breyer Committee Report acknowledged problems with the enforcement of judicial discipline.
"Federal judges should live by the highest of standards. When misconduct, waste, fraud and abuse occur, the public's confidence in the federal judiciary is eroded," Grassley said. "A good inspector general can detect, expose and deter problems and restore accountability with the American people."
Congressman Sensenbrenner said, "Creating an independent Inspector General for the Judicial Branch will help provide the American public with some peace of mind that there is oversight over those entrusted with the grave responsibility of interpreting the laws of the land."
Grassley is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner is the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. He is the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Summary of The Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act of 2011
· 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.