Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel

About CRC

Legal Resources

Community Rights Report Newsletter

Support Us


Redefining Federalism

Warming Law Blog

Community Rights Counsel
1301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 502
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-296-6889
Fax: 202-296-6895

Tainted Justice Press

Golf Anyone? The Movable Feast Called 'Judicial Education'

The New York Times
April 24, 2004
Dorothy Samuels
Editorial Observer

Amid the uproar over Justice Antonin Scalia's duck-hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney, I phoned a federal judge I know to get his take on the matter. Speaking off the record, the judge, a seasoned court veteran, sharply criticized Mr. Scalia's judgment, first in going on the trip, and accepting free rides on Air Force Two for himself and two relatives, and then in refusing to step aside when the case challenging the secrecy of Mr. Cheney's energy task force is heard next Tuesday by the Supreme Court.

But the judge's disapproval instantly shifted from Mr. Scalia to this editorial writer when I suggested a similarity between the duck-hunting episode and a broader, less publicized judicial travel outrage. I'm speaking of the well-attended "judicial education" programs that are staged at resorts offering excellent golf, fly-fishing and horseback riding and are financed by private interests bent on influencing judges to curb federal regulatory authority in areas like protecting the environment.

"It's a non-issue," the judge snapped at me, adding that he'd attended such a seminar himself years ago and found the discussions to be "interesting and informative."

The exchange had a familiar ring to it. Much as many members of Congress resisted the 1995 gift ban, which barred lawmakers from accepting free meals and other largesse from lobbyists, many otherwise ethically alert judges are loath to relinquish their compromising travel perks.

So the problem festers. An eye-opening report four years ago by the Community Rights Counsel, an environmental group, revealed that between 1992 and 1998, more than a quarter of the federal judiciary - some 230 federal judges - took advantage of a loophole in current ethical guidelines to accept the free vacations. The report also noted a troubling correlation between attendance at such seminars and rulings scaling back environmental protections, suggesting that these gifts are affecting judicial decisions. A new follow-up report by the same group finds these strategic private seminars are continuing apace, having been effectively protected by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and other judicial leaders who have quashed formative efforts at reform within Congress and by the American Bar Association.

Moreover, as the Community Rights Counsel recently set forth in a formal ethics complaint, three federal appellate judges - Judge Douglas Ginsburg, chief of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Judges Jane Roth of the Third Circuit and Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit - openly flout current limits on judges' off-the-bench activities by serving on the board of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment. That group, an environmental advocacy outfit, has both a strident antiregulatory profile and gobs of money from energy industry interests to run educational/recreational seminars for federal judges in Montana and elsewhere.

Unlike Mr. Scalia's now infamous rustic vacation with Mr. Cheney, most garden-variety judicial junkets are unlikely to become grist for a David Letterman Top 10 list. Still, their harm to judicial integrity and impartiality in allowing well-heeled special interests to wine, dine and lobby judges under the deceptively neutral-sounding heading of "judicial education" is profound.

No matter how they are framed, these privately financed trips cannot be squared with a judge's fundamental duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Nor can they be justified by the ongoing failure of the Congress to give judges the considerable pay raise they deserve. For a special bar association commission reviewing possible changes to the bar's influential Model Code of Judicial Conduct, barring these junkets ought to be an easy call.

Back to CRC Home

If you have questions or comments about this website or
Community Rights Counsel email us!

2005 Community Rights Counsel. All rights reserved.