Seven months after he joined the US Supreme Court, the cloud of Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations still hangs over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, recalled in media reports across the political spectrum and unresolved in the US judiciary's own process for handling related ethics claims.
At the same time, formal ethics grievances filed against Kavanaugh based on his testimony in response to the Ford sexual-assault allegations are moving to a higher level of the judicial misconduct process.
A Denver-based judicial council last December dismissed a total of 83 complaints (some of which were unconnected to Ford), saying it lacked authority to address the claims because Kavanaugh, as a Supreme Court justice, was no longer covered by the judiciary's ethics code. That decision was reinforced by the judicial council in March.
Now some of those complaints have been appealed to a conduct committee of the US Judicial Conference, the top policy-making arm of the third branch, overseen by Roberts. There is no deadline for any investigation or another dismissal.
The high-court exemption can protect justices from scrutiny, but it also leaves claims -- both frivolous and with merit -- unanswered in the public eye.
Among the 83 misconduct claims filed against Kavanaugh were those alleging that his response to the Ford accusation was inappropriately partisan, demonstrating bias and a lack of judicial temperament. Others accused him of making false statements during the 2018 hearings and in 2004 and 2006 when he was being considered for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
When a US appeals court's judicial council considered the complaints, which had been referred to it by Chief Justice Roberts, the council said the claims could not be examined or resolved because Kavanaugh, once confirmed to the high court, was exempt from the 1980 judicial misconduct law.
"The allegations contained in the complaints are serious," the 10th Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote, "but the Judicial Council is obligated to adhere to the Act. Lacking statutory authority to do anything more, the complaints must be dismissed because of an intervening event -- Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court -- has made the complaints no longer appropriate for consideration under the Act."
In March, after 20 of the complainants had appealed, the 10th Circuit council reaffirmed that decision. "The lack of jurisdiction over Justice Kavanaugh precludes an investigative and fact-finding process, even over conduct allegedly committed while Justice Kavanaugh was a covered judge," the council wrote.
A number of complainants have now appealed to the US Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability. The National Law Journal first reported this week on the new, mostly confidential, Kavanaugh-related filings.
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