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February 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

110th Congress Acts on Judiciary Initiatives


As the first session of the 110th Congress ended, several bills of interest to the Judiciary were either under consideration or on their way to the White House for the President's signature. Action on pending bills began again in the second session, which started in January 2008.

Court Security/Redaction Authority

The Court Security Improvement Act of 2007 became Public Law No. 110-177 on January 7, 2008. Congress passed the legislation in mid-December. The new law improves the security of federal judges and the courts. It requires the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service to consult on a continuing basis with the Judicial Conference on court security; it extends until 2011 the Judicial Conference's authority to redact sensitive information from the financial disclosure reports of federal judges; it allows judges to use their courthouse address instead of their home address when applying for state-issued documentation, such as driver's licenses; and it protects federal judges against the malicious recording of fictitious liens by creating a new federal criminal sanction.

"The adequate security of federal judges and their families has been a long-term issue and concern," said Administrative Office Director James C. Duff. "This law makes much-needed improvements in the way in which the federal Judiciary is protected. Our thanks go to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and ranking minority member Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), along with Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Susan Collins (R-ME). In the House, we are especially grateful to Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee; ranking minority member Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX); and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security chair, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), and ranking member Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX), for their support."

The Court Security Improvement Act of 2007 contains additional provisions of interest to the Judiciary. Those provisions will:

  • give magistrate judges Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) coverage comparable to that of Article III judges. At the last moment, FEGLI coverage for territorial and bankruptcy judges was struck from the House version of the bill because of strict pay-as-you-go budget rules that require an identified offset for this spending. The Administrative Office will pursue immediately the "FEGLI fix" for bankruptcy judges and territorial judges in the second session of the 110th Congress;
  • eliminate one judgeship for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and create one judgeship for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; and
  • authorize senior judges who carry a 50 percent workload to participate in court management proceedings such as the appointment of court officers and magistrate judges, rulemaking, and other administrative matters.

Cameras in the Courtroom

In the first session of the 110th Congress, bills allowing broadcast media coverage of court proceedings were introduced in both chambers.

In October 2007, the House Judiciary Committee amended and reported H.R. 2128, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007. The bill would authorize the presiding judge to permit the "photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of any court proceedings" in a federal appellate court (including the Supreme Court) or a district court. Under the provisions of H.R. 2128, the face or voice of witnesses could be obscured, and jurors could not be televised in a court proceeding. The Judicial Conference would be able to promulgate guidelines for judges on the management and administration of cameras in the courtroom. The authority for camera coverage in the district courts would sunset three years after enactment of the bill. The House did not vote on the legislation before the session ended.

As the first session drew to a close, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered a similar bill, S. 352. On December 6, 2007, the Committee amended the bill, adopting some of the same changes as the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported S. 344, a camera coverage bill applicable only to the Supreme Court. The bill would require the Court to permit television coverage of all open sessions unless it decides, by majority vote, that allowing such coverage would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more parties.

The Judicial Conference strongly opposes H.R. 2128 and S. 352 because they would permit the use of cameras in the federal trial courts and change the present policy of allowing a court of appeals first to determine whether to permit cameras in that circuit.

Judges' Pay

Federal judges received a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for FY 2008. (See chart on page 9.) In addition, progress was made toward Congressional passage of federal judicial salary restoration legislation. In his Year-End Report, Chief Justice Roberts thanked the House and Senate leadership, as well as the President, for their bipartisan support. Passage of a judges' pay bill remains a high priority for the Judiciary in 2008.

Last session, in December 2007, the House Judiciary Committee reported an amended version of H.R. 3753, the Judicial Salary Restoration Act of 2007 by a vote of 28 — 5. As amended, the bill would give federal judges their first real pay raise since 1991, while repealing Section 140 of P.L. 97 — 92 (which requires express congressional approval to permit judges to receive a cost-of-living adjustment as provided annually under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989) and authorizing future annual pay adjustments at levels received by General Schedule employees. The bill would also modify some retirement rules for judges.

Shortly after the House Judiciary Committee action, the Senate Judiciary Committee began consideration of S. 1638, its version of the Judicial Salary Restoration bill. The Committee adopted the same pay levels, cost-of-living, and service provisions as the House bill, as well as additional amendments. The bill was reported out of committee in the early weeks of the second session.