(Photo: Steve Heap/Fotolia.)
A coalition of organizations seeking greater transparency from the U.S. Supreme Court today called on the justices to post their financial disclosure forms online, as is done with top officials of the executive and legislative branches.
The Coalition for Court Transparency, representing media and public interest organizations, made the request just a week before the May 15 deadline when justices, along with lower court judges, are required to submit their disclosures to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
But because of the long-standing procedures that journalists and members of the public must follow in requesting the documents, the forms for justices are typically not released until mid-June or later.
Requests must be mailed in or faxed, and then the justices are told who is requesting the forms. Justices are also allowed to redact certain information— such as addresses of properties they own—before the forms are made public. The administrative office releases the documents to requesters in paper form, in person or by mail, with a charge of 20 cents per page.
The coalition said the process poses “unnecessary obstacles for the public and for journalists who cover the court.”
Michael Ostrolenk of the Liberty Coalition, a member of the coalition, said, “There are a number of actions the Supreme Court could carry out to comport with 21st century expectations of transparency. Posting their annual disclosure reports online is among the easiest.”
Journalists depend on the financial disclosure forms to help determine why justices recuse in certain cases. Justices almost never explain recusals. The listing of assets and stock holdings in the annual forms can sometimes provide a clue to their reasoning.
A recent poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 59 percent of those responding advocate online release of the forms. The public, according to the poll, also approves other measures to provide greater Supreme Court transparency, including allowing cameras to broadcast court proceedings.