Chief Justice John Roberts announced an initiative in his official 2017 State of the Judiciary Report that would create protections against sexual harassment for law clerks and other employees of the courts.
Roberts’s announcement comes in the aftermath of many sexual harassers being forced to take accountability for their actions—including Judge Alex Kozinski of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, who stepped down in December after allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior with law clerks and other employees surfaced.
In his report, Roberts noted that the last gasps of 2017 have “illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace,” and noted that even the judicial branch “is not immune.” “The judiciary will begin 2018 by undertaking a careful evaluation of whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee,” he wrote.
As the Washington Post notes, the relationship that is the most concerning is between a judge and their law clerks; clerks are recent law school graduates and a year clerking for a judge is often a big boost for their career. What happens in the judge’s chambers are confidential and, as some clerks told the Post, there is a “natural reluctance” to complain about any inappropriate behavior because it might jeopardize their career.
Roberts assigned a working group to examine the issue of sexual harassment in the judiciary shortly after the allegations against Kozinski surfaced in December. The group’s findings will be presented sometime in May. A letter, written by 700 former and current law clerks urging Roberts to examine this issue in his end of year statement, offered one possible solution: a “national reporting system that would allow a court employee to report harassment incidents by a judge or other court official, or to report witnessing such an incident.”
“I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise our judiciary,” Roberts wrote in his statement. “I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies.”