So-Called Hearing on Judicial Transparency Devolves Into Executive Branch Spat

A hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss judicial transparency and ethics turned into an at times heated debate on executive power and its alleged abuse by President Donald Trump.

Trump “is a living, breathing conflict of interest” who “peddles illegitimacy” but we’re here today talking about PACER issues, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.

The House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee held the hearing Feb. 14 to examine how audio and video recordings in courtroom proceedings, access to court documents and the judicial ethics infrastructure could be changed to improve the judiciary’s legitimacy.

 “Trust in the court system is crucial to its success,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.

Opening all federal court proceedings to electronic coverage, eliminating PACER fees and passing legislation mandating that the U.S. Supreme Court adopt a code of conduct would increase the system’s transparency and legitimacy, witnesses testified.

PACER stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. It is a system that provides online access to federal court records for a fee.

It has been criticized for charging excessive fees and for being outmoded.

‘Brazen Attack.’

The hearing, however, was dominated almost from the get-go by Trump.

Our court system is “the envy of the world,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.

But it’s been under sustained attack from the executive branch, he said.

There’s never before been “such a brazen attempt” by any president to undermine it, Nadler said.

Nadler called Trump’s Feb. 11 tweet that the “legal system is broken” an “inappropriate, reckless” attack on the judiciary.

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Such sustained attacks “can erode public confidence” in an independent judiciary, Charles G. Geyh said.

Geyh is a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. His area of expertise is judicial conduct and ethics.

He testified on how federal laws could be amended to ensure judges’ competence, impartiality, independence, and integrity to “protect and promote the legitimacy of the courts.”

Death Threats.

One congressman worried that Trump’s comments could diminish the judiciary’s relevance.

Trump has made “troubling statements” about the judiciary that threaten the respect people have for the rule of law, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said.

Conyers pointed out that a judge has received death threats since Trump targeted him in a tweet.

After federal district judge James. L. Robart blocked Trump’s executive order halting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Trump tweeted that Robart was a “so-called judge.”

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Geyh’s testimony corroborated Conyers’s worries.

“The reason that President Trump’s recent reference to District Judge James Robart as a ‘so-called judge’ raised concern, is because it transcended robust criticism of a judicial decision and challenged the legitimacy of the court itself,” Geyh said.

Although the hearing did at times re-focus to discuss the items on the agenda, the final comments, which came from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), again strayed to Trump’s “so-called Judge comment.”

We need to work so that no one can second guess the judicial system’s integrity, he said.