Common Cause and seven other advocacy groups appealed to the Supreme Court today to make information about the justices' personal finances more available and accessible to the public.
In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, the groups said the justices should follow the lead of the President, Vice President and members of Congress by posting their annual financial disclosure forms online as soon as the forms are filed each year - typically in May.
"This policy change will make it much easier for interested citizens to access the Justices' financial information, promoting public confidence in the federal government in general, and in the Supreme Court in particular," the letter asserted. "As the highest court in the nation, the Supreme Court would also serve as a powerful model of transparency and openness for the rest of the judiciary - both state and federal."
The Financial Disclosure Office of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts releases printed copies of the justices' annual forms to reporters and interested persons on request, but the forms are not posted on the court's website, www.supremecourt.gov, or any other government website. The court's orders, opinions and dockets are available on its website.
Release of the letter comes as Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, have indicated they're preparing to introduce legislation that would hold members of the high court to the same ethical standards imposed on the rest of the federal judiciary.
In public appearances and testimony to congressional committees, several of the justices have insisted that they voluntarily follow the "Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges" but acknowledged that it does not bind them in the same way it binds judges of lower federal courts. The code cautions judges to avoid personal conduct, including political activity, which could undermine public confidence in their independence. It also includes conflict of interest guidelines designed to instruct judges on when they should disqualify themselves from cases in which they may have a personal interest.
In addition to Common Cause, the letter to Roberts was signed by the Alliance for Justice, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Media and Democracy, the Center for Public Integrity, Justice at Stake, OpenTheGovernment.org, and the Society of American Archivists.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.
Office: Common Cause National