Federal Judiciary Changes Policies To Better Address Sexual Harassment

The body that oversees America’s federal judiciary approved a new set of rules on Tuesday that will retool how members of the court system address reports of workplace harassment.

The Judicial Conference, a 26-member governing body for the federal court system, said the changes would clarify internal definitions of misconduct and protect federal employees who report abusive behavior.

“We’ve tried to produce an array of ways in which people can raise concerns about misconduct in the hope that that will give us warning in time to do something about bad behavior,” Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, told reporters after the decision, according to Politico. “Obviously, the idea is to fix the problem.”

Garland also said that under the new policies it would now be “misconduct not to report misconduct.” The change is effective immediately.

The new rules institute relatively common definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace, prohibiting things like creating a “hostile work environment,” engaging in “unwanted, offensive, or abusive sexual conduct” and intentionally discriminating against members of a certain race, gender or sexual orientation.

Garland noted that, although the policies were far-reaching, they cannot directly result in judges being removed from office. The only way to do so is through formal impeachment proceedings brought forward by Congress, according to Politico.

Bloomberg notes that the new guidelines stem from a June 2018 report crafted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts following sexual harassment allegations filed against then-9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. Kozinski was accused of showing pornography to female clerks and subjecting them to “inappropriate sexual conduct or comments” during his tenure. He resigned abruptly in late 2017.

“I’ve always had a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike,” Kozinski wrote in an apology at the time of his departure. “It grieves me to learn that I caused any of my clerks to feel uncomfortable; this was never my intent.”

The new code of conduct doesn’t specifically apply to the Supreme Court, according to Bloomberg, although the group has said it follows the provisions set out by the Judicial Conference. Justice Elena Kagan has proposed setting up a specific set of codes for the high court itself.

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