Commentary Magazine


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Judges’ Vacation on the Public’s Dime

The General Services Administration outraged taxpayers last month after news broke that it had taken a ritzy, $800,000 trip to Las Vegas on the public dime. But now it looks like the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to outdo them. Nearly 700 participants are expected to attend the 2012 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Hawaii, the schedule for which includes yoga, paddleboard lessons, and a snorkeling trip. Cost to the taxpayers? Around $1 million, Senate Republicans estimate.

Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley, ranking members of the Senate Budget Committee and Judiciary Committee respectively, are demanding an explanation. They sent a letter outlining their concerns to Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, who is apparently responsible for the trip:

Although the conference does not “officially” open until Monday, the registration desk is open on Saturday and Sunday, with sport fishing scheduled for Sunday morning and a golf tournament scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Throughout the conference schedule there are other activities unrelated to the business of the court, including yoga, surfing lessons, stand-up paddleboard lessons, Zumba (a Latin-inspired dance program), a tennis tournament, a day trip and tour of Upcountry Maui, a Gemini Catamaran snorkel trip, and an activity called “The Aloha Experience.” While the site makes clear that government funds are not to be used for any recreation or sporting activities and that court-related matters will be substantively considered, the program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice.

We are concerned about the overall cost of the conference and do not believe that discussions about the administration of justice would be less successful were they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Hawaii.

The senators are requesting information on the cost of previous conferences and an explanation of why the Hawaii location is necessary for the trip.

Obviously, $1 million seems like a small amount when you consider our larger spending crisis. But this is really about the problem with a government culture where these taxpayer-funded excursions are considered acceptable. If the GSA and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are doing this, then who else is? If these trips are unnecessarily extravagant, then what else are agencies and courts wasting money on throughout the year?

True, Hawaii might be under the 9th circuit’s jurisdiction. But so is Idaho, and the plane fares and hotel costs are substantially less there. Better yet — why not nix the conference altogether, and hold the lectures and presentations online?