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Chairman Nadler Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on “Protecting Federal Judiciary Employees from Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Other Workplace Misconduct”

Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released the following statement for the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing on “Protecting Federal Judiciary Employees from Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Other Workplace Misconduct”: 

“Thank you, Chairman Johnson, for holding this hearing on workplace protections for Judiciary employees.

“In the last few years, society has grappled with how our laws and institutions have failed to protect employees from workplace sexual harassment. As story after story emerged in the Me Too Movement, it became clear: no institution is perfect and no institution is immune from workplace misconduct.  But we have also learned that change can only begin when we finally listen to the brave individuals who speak out, often at great personal risk.

“We are joined today by several witnesses who have made the brave choice to come forward and to speak about their experiences in order to help others and to effect change. I join all my colleagues in applauding their courage.

“The Judiciary is a unique work environment for young lawyers.  For those who serve as law clerks early in their careers, it is a pivotal job that can shape the lawyer they will become and build the networks on which their career depends. While that experience can be transformative for a young lawyer, the absolute power of the judges with whom they work creates an extreme power imbalance between clerk and judge.

“This dynamic can create workplaces where reporting abuse can be difficult, if not impossible, and where holding bosses accused of workplace abuse accountable can be just as difficult, if not impossible.

“It is important to note that this power imbalance in the courts is not limited to the judge-law clerk relationship.  We care about all the Judiciary employees and seek to prevent abuse wherever it may happen within the court system. 

“These power dynamics also are not limited to the Judiciary. For example, Congress recently began coming to terms with how power dynamics in our own offices had created toxic work environments for many staffers and took critical steps to address them. Thankfully, because of the work in other institutions, experts have identified some best practices to ensure that these power imbalances do not result in working conditions where employees have no recourse or where there is no accountability.

“While no system may be able to stop or prevent all abuse, those best practices provide a roadmap for the federal courts to address the problems in their workplace culture that have resulted in harassment, discrimination, and other misconduct.

“That roadmap is complemented by the experiences of law clerks and Judiciary employees.  They are obviously intended to be key beneficiaries of workplace protections, so it makes sense that their input and feedback is critical to ensuring that new workplace protections are actually effective.

“Accordingly, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses where the Judiciary’s current practices may be failing and how they could be improved.

“Culture change starts with the recognition that the Judiciary is more than just its judges, and that protecting powerful judges from accountability and embarrassment is not the same as protecting the integrity of the Judiciary, especially if it leaves law clerks and other employees more vulnerable to misconduct.

“I want to once again thank those of you here today sharing your, in some cases, deeply personal and emotional experiences.  I know you all care about our Judiciary, and I want to assure you all that I take this issue seriously and will be committed to continuing oversight where it is needed and warranted.

“Like Chairman Johnson, I am disappointed that there is no representative from the Judicial Conference here today.  From Secretary Duff’s letter declining our invitation to appear, the Judicial Conference appears to believe that it has a positive story of improvement to tell, although they acknowledge there is more to do.  If that is the case, I am disappointed that they did not take the opportunity to share that story with us here today.

“But the invitation to come before us remains open.  Dialogue, transparency, and openness are critical for moving forward on this issue, just as they will be critical in combatting workplace misconduct in the courts. 

“Thank you again, Chairman Johnson, and I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony.”

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