[JURIST] A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the US Courts [official website] said Friday that creating an inspector general for the federal judiciary to investigate possible ethical violations by federal judges "would be a serious incursion into judicial independence" and was unnecessary, as the judicial branch was already subject to congressional oversight and had internal procedures for handling ethics problems. Dick Carelli was responding to bills introduced [press release] Thursday in the US House and Senate by two high-ranking Republicans, House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) [official website] and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) [official website], aimed at stemming such occasional practices as judges' acceptances of free trips from parties who have pending cases before them or sitting on cases in which they might have a financial interest. Both versions of the legislation would direct Chief Justice John Roberts [JURIST news archive] to appoint an inspector general who would report to him and to Congress about activities of members of the judiciary.
Issues of conflicts of interest played a role in the Senate hearings earlier this year for US Supreme Court nominee (and now Justice) Samuel Alito [JURIST news archive]. While on the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals [official website], then-judge Alito heard a case [JURIST report] in which Vanguard [corporate website], a mutual fund company in which Alito owned shares, was a party. The House version of the proposed Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act of 2006 would not extend its rules to the US Supreme Court, but the Senate version would. The idea of appointing an inspector general for the US judicial branch is not new; in 1996 the policy-making Judicial Conference of the United States [official website] formally rejected the option, but Rep. Sensenbrenner expressed concern two years ago about what he called "the Judicial Branch's lack of effort in recent years to police its Members' behavior" and said Thursday he was "troubled to read recently in a Washington Post article that a number of federal judges have continued to violate applicable ethical rules and others have failed to make proper disclosures for travel to resorts on expense-paid trips." AP has more.