Norton Bill Signed by the President: Will Allow Full Public Access to D.C. Judges' Financial Information

Updated 12/18/16. The President signed the bill December 14 and it became Public Law 114-257.

Both houses of Congress earlier passed H.R. 4419, introduced February 1, 2016, by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). The bill opens for public review the forms on which D.C. judges disclose their own and family members' finances including income and assets of all kinds.

Full access is assured unless revealing personal and sensitive information could endanger the judge or a family member. A report may be redacted only to the extent necessary to protect the individual or family member, and only as long as the danger to the individual exists.

Such disclosures, along with public access, are common ethics requirements for senior officials in all branches of government at all levels. The requirements are generally considered to help prevent officials taking decisions on subjects where their private interests are involved and could, consciously or not, bias their judgment. 

The legislation makes the local requirements comparable to those for federal judges, correcting technical problems in the laws governing judges in the D.C. Superior Court and Court of Appeals. One law required detailed disclosures to a special committee, but another kept all but a few pages off limits to the public.

The limited transparency of D.C. judges' finances drew attention of the press and advocates, including the Open Government Coalition, which has been advocating for change since 2013.

Delegate Norton said in a statement after the President's action, “We are pleased the President has signed into law our bill to bring much-needed financial disclosure and other improvements to the D.C. courts. Getting a bill through Congress, no matter how uncontroversial, is immensely difficult.  I thank my colleagues in the Senate for working with me and turning this important bill into statute.”

Center for Public Integrity originally reviewed judicial financial transparency nationwide in 2013 and spotlighted the lack of access to such records in D.C.  Their coverage of passage in the House and Senate and the President's signature is here.