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Public Statements

Extension of Redaction Authority Concerning Sensitive Security Information

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I support H.R. 1059 and thank Mr. Conyers for sponsoring it. I also thank Mr. Cohen of Tennessee and Mr. Johnson of Georgia for serving as cosponsors.

H.R. 1059 promotes an important goal, providing security for Federal judges. Under the Ethics in Government Act, judges and other high-level judicial branch officials must file annual financial disclosure reports. This requirement increases public confidence in government officials and better enables the public to judge the performance of those officials. However, Congress enacted legislation that allows the Judicial Conference to redact statutorily required information in a financial disclosure report where the release of the information could endanger the filer or their family.

Those who seek to harm or intimidate Federal judges might use a disclosure form to identify where someone's spouse or child works or goes to school on a regular basis. Individuals targeting judges for harassment have also been known to file false claims on property owned by judges and their families. Harassers could use judicial financial disclosure reports to more easily identify such property.

The Judicial Conference delegated to its Committee on Financial Disclosure the responsibility to implement the financial disclosure requirements for judges and judicial employees under the Ethics in Government Act. The committee monitors the release of financial disclosure reports to ensure compliance with the statute.

In consultation with U.S. Marshals Service, the committee also reviews and approves or disapproves any request for redaction or statutorily mandated information where the filer believes the release of the information could endanger the filer and their family. Under the Judicial Conference's regulations, no redaction will be granted without a clear nexus between a security risk and the information for which redaction is sought.

The law has worked well through the years and has been reauthorized twice since 2001; but it expires at the end of this calendar year if we fail to act, an outcome that is unacceptable.

Last year the Marshals Service investigated and analyzed almost 1,400 threats and inappropriate communications to judicial officials, nearly three times as many threats as recorded in 2003. And there were more than 3,900 incidents and arrests at U.S. court facilities in 2010.

Financial disclosures help maintain an open and transparent government, but government transparency should not come at the cost of personal security for government officials. Judges and other judicial employees perform important work that is integral to our democratic system of government. In order to preserve the integrity of our democracy, we must protect the integrity of our courts; and that means ensuring the security of judges and other judicial employees from intimidation and threats.

The Senate made two minor amendments to the bill, which we accept. The first amendment involves an annual report that the administrative Office of the U.S. Courts submits to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The report summarizes the redactions made in the preceding year and explains why they were made. The first amendment mandates that the report also be sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee. The second amendment sunsets the redaction authority after 6 years, in 2017.

Mr. Speaker, I support H.R. 1059, as amended by the Senate, and urge my colleagues to extend the redaction authority.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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