In an annual report released on Sunday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court vowed to review sexual misconduct policies across the federal court system with much more care. The critical announcement from Chief Justice John Roberts came in two paragraphs in the 16-page document, as a national reckoning takes place with sexual harassment and abuse across several industries, including politics, media, and tech. Roberts wrote that the judiciary will see whether or not its approach toward addressing internal sexual harassment is working at all.
We have a new challenge in the coming year. Events in recent months have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made clear that the judicial branch is not immune.
Going forward, Roberts noted that the judicial branch's policies addressing sexually inappropriate behavior will undergo a thorough "evaluation:"
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.
Roberts' point that the judicial branch also has a sexual harassment problem may be a reference to former federal judge Alex Kozinski. In December, former female staffers of Kozonski's accused him of sexual harassment, using vulgar language, and allegedly exposing colleagues to pornographic images. Although Kozinski apologized for his conduct in December and stepped down from his judgeship, he defended his "broad sense of humor" and said he was misunderstood.
Kozinski wrote, "I've always had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike. In doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace. It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent. For this, I sincerely apologize."
Without naming Kozinski, Roberts wrote that the judiciary policies on sexual harassment will receive a careful assessment in the future. Per the chief justice, a "working group" will spend time to see whether the judiciary practices on improving workplace environment are helpful at all.
In his own words, Roberts said, "I have asked the Director of the Administrative Office to assemble a working group to examine our practices and address these issues." Given the sensitive nature of complaints, the issue of accusers seeking anonymity out of fear of retribution, Roberts said that the process of addressing sexual harassment will be much more considerate.
"I expect the working group to consider whether changes are needed in our codes of conduct, our guidance to employees—including law clerks—on issues of confidentiality and reporting of instances of misconduct, our educational programs, and our rules for investigating and processing misconduct complaints. These concerns warrant serious attention from all quarters of the judicial branch," he wrote.
In his ending note on the topic, the chief justice said that he was optimistic about the change his evaluation would bring for judiciary clerks and staffers. "I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise our judiciary. 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," Roberts said.
In addition to briefly touching upon the issue of sexual harassment in judicial ranks, Roberts discussed the judiciary's performance on addressing the extremely intense hurricane season in 2017. The chief justice also took notice of the wildfires that ravaged California in October.