Rooting out corruption in our judicial system

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By Congressman Bob Goodlatte

It is a rare occasion when the House of Representatives must vote on articles of impeachment against a federal judge.  Indeed, the last time this occurred was 20 years ago.  However, when evidence emerges that an individual is abusing his judicial office for his own advantage, the integrity of the judicial system becomes compromised, and the House of Representatives has the duty to investigate the matter and take the appropriate actions to end the abuse and restore confidence in the judicial system.

Just days ago the House of Representatives considered and passed, without any dissenting votes, four articles of impeachment against Judge Samuel B. Kent.  Kent is only the 14th federal judge in the nation’s history to be the focus of an impeachment in the House.  The charges include two articles on the grounds of sexual assault, one article on the grounds of obstruction of justice, and one article on the grounds of providing false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.

This vote came after a thorough investigation and much work by the Task Force on Judicial Impeachment, on which I serve as Ranking Member.  The Task Force conducted an investigatory hearing on the matter, at which two court employees who were victimized by Judge Kent testified about the extent of his sexual abuse.  While Judge Kent and his attorney were both invited to testify and participate in the hearing, both declined to attend.

Judge Kent pled guilty to felony obstruction of justice and to committing repeated acts of nonconsensual sexual contact with court employees.  Earlier this month, he reported to prison to begin his 33 month sentence.  However, because the Constitution provides that federal judges are appointed for life, Samuel Kent, despite the fact that he is sitting in prison, continues to collect his taxpayer-funded salary of $174,000 per year, continues to collect his taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits, and continues to accrue his taxpayer-funded pension unless he resigns his office or is impeached.  This amounts to an attempt to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American people and is simply unacceptable.

It is not a pleasant task to impeach a federal judge, yet when a judge so clearly abuses his office, as in the case of Judge Kent, it becomes necessary to take the appropriate action in order to restore the confidence of the American people in the judicial system.  The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power and responsibility to impeach federal judges and it is a power that Congress utilizes only in cases involving very serious allegations of misconduct. The case now goes to the United States Senate for a trial to determine if Judge Kent should be removed from office.  The Task Force on Judicial Impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee and the full House of Representatives worked together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that swift action was taken to root out corruption in our judicial system.