US Supreme Court on Sexual Misconduct (2018 End-of-Year Report)

Scales of Justice and Judge`s gavel

Chief Justice John Roberts published the 2018 annual report and reflections on the judiciary, with a focus on sexual misconduct in the workplace. The Justice acknowledges that sexual harassment is “not limited to a few isolated instances” and that it “frequently goes unreported“. While Roberts CJ’s report affirms that the judiciary embodies “committed leadership and an ethos of accountability,” more could be done to encourage all employees to come forward in reporting misconduct in order to foster the “exemplary workplace we all want.” The Supreme Court’s Working Group is currently creating training programs and revising sexual harassment policies, and proposed that the judiciary revise its code of conduct and streamline internal procedures.

This administrative review came after Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, was accused by several women (many of whom were law clerks) of inappropriate comments and behavior. Kozinski resigned from the bench in 2017 amidst allegations, but recently resumed legal practice and took a copyright lawsuit to the 9th Circuit in December 2018. Brett Kavanaugh clerked with Kovinski in the early 1990s, and Kovinski’s son clerked with Kavanaugh last summer. While Kovinski and Kavanaugh are friends, it is unclear whether Kavanaugh was aware of Kovinski’s misconduct during his clerkship. Additionally, the SCC’s 2018 report makes no mention of allegations of sexual misconduct directed at Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing (while Kovinski is alluded to, through an exploration of the relationship between law clerks and judges).

2018 also saw a 40% increase in defendants charged with unauthorized reentry to the US, as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration suppression. Many were surprised that the Supreme Court’s report didn’t touch on judicial independence. In November 2018, Roberts CJ offered a public defense of 3,300 federal judges, in response to a nationwide injunction on efforts to enforce new restrictions on migrant asylum. Trump criticized the Chief Justice and labeled him an “Obama judge,” to which the Chief Justice replied: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.