Today, three U.S. Senators introduced a bill to stop the disturbing practice of special interests using lavish “educational” trips to fancy resort locations to lobby federal judges on hot-button legal topics. The Fair and Independent Judiciary Act of 2006, introduced today in the U.S. Senate, would allow for judicial education but ban the corporate-bankrolled vacations that have sometimes accompanied it.
Community Rights Counsel applauds Senators Patrick Leahy, John Kerry, and Russ Feingold for leading this important effort. These trips, which Community Rights Counsel uncovered in a series of investigative reports, have repeatedly been condemned by the nation’s leading experts in legal ethics, former judges, members of Congress, and dozens of newspaper editorial pages across the country and across the ideological spectrum. In his September confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to recognize this problem, stating, “I don’t think special interests should be allowed to lobby federal judges.”
The bill establishes a $2 million fund for judicial education. Judges would be allowed to access money from this fund to pay for educational seminars, but their expenses would be paid by the courts, not by special interests. To further the transparency of the federal judiciary, and to address the problem of judicial stock conflicts, the bill requires judges to maintain a list of all potential financial conflicts of interest and make that list publicly available.
“Junkets for Members of Congress are bad, but junkets for federal judges—our nation’s purported umpires—are far worse,” said Community Rights Counsel’s executive director, Doug Kendall. “With nervous lawmakers in Washington trying to outdo each other in responding to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, there is no better time to clean up the judicial branch as well. CRC hailed Chief Justice Roberts for saying that special interests should not be permitted to lobby federal judges. We hope the new Chief Justice will work with Members of Congress to agree upon a solution that protects both judicial independence and public trust in the judicial branch.”