WASHINGTON - Three senators on Friday proposed new limits on expense-paid trips for federal judges and a system to let the public know about potential courthouse conflicts.
Judges would be barred from taking free trips to seminars sponsored by special interests, although they could participate if their courts paid their ways, under the proposal by Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, all Democrats.
The plan also would require judges to maintain and make public "recusal lists" of companies in which they have a financial interest and potential conflict.
Judge travel has been criticized in recent years. The public-interest law firm Community Rights Counsel found in 2002 that 22 federal judges took trips underwritten by major corporations and failed to list the trips on financial disclosure forms.
The group's executive director, Doug Kendall, said Friday that "junkets for members of Congress are bad, but junkets for federal judges _ our nation's umpires _ are far worse."
With Congress considering ethics reforms for itself, related to the conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, "there is no better time to clean up the judicial branch as well," said Kendall.
The trip limits would not affect Supreme Court justices, even though the proposal follows criticism by some news outlets of Justice Antonin Scalia for allowing the Federalist Society to pay his way to a resort in Colorado last fall.
Scalia was also scolded by news organizations in 2004 for taking a duck hunting trip to Louisiana with Vice President Dick Cheney while the Supreme Court was considering a case involving Cheney's energy task force.
Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he "had hoped that the federal judiciary would engage in self-regulation on these timely and substantive ethical issues."
"Unfortunately, recent press reports show continued appearances of impropriety, even by a member of the Supreme Court," Leahy said.
The Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group, defended Scalia's participation in the event last year, saying he taught a 10-hour course and prepared a 481-page textbook for the seminar for 100 lawyers.