Two Republican senators have raised questions about a conference set in Maui, Hawaii, for judges in the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, calling it a waste of taxpayer money.
Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski asking for detailed information about expenses for the conference, scheduled Aug. 13 – 16. The federal government will cover rooms at the Hyatt Maui Regency Resort & Spa, travel and some meals, according to the letter. The conference’s schedule also lists a number of recreational activities and events, including yoga, a tennis tournament and an event called “The Aloha Experience.”
“While the [conference] site makes it clear that government funds are not to be used for any recreational or sporting activities and that court-related matters will be substantially considered, the program reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice,” the letter states.
The conference is invitation-only to judges from the Ninth Circuit, the federal districts of nine western states, two Pacific Island territories and members of the federal bar practicing in those areas, court staff and special guests, which include Supreme Court Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy.
The letter asks for detailed documentation on expenses from previous 2009 to 2011 conferences, including a list attendees, the cost for travel and use of facilities and cost of gifts given to attendees. It also poses 10 questions to the court about this year’s conference, including why the Maui venue was chosen, whether events open to friends and families of the circuit members would be covered by the government and why the Maui venue was chosen over a teleconference. It gives the court until June 15 to reply.
Grassley said in a news release that travel for such a conference is unnecessary.
“A judicial circuit court should be capable of using technology to share information without requiring a trip to an island paradise,” Grassley said. “It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle. The taxpayers can’t sustain this kind of spending, and they shouldn’t have to. The court should re-examine whether this is the best use of tax dollars.”
The letter estimates the Ninth Circuit spent $657,000 on travel-related for the 2010 conference and estimated that this year’s conference might cost more than $500,000 for accommodations. Travel for 12 active district and bankruptcy judges would cost an additional $9,000, the senators estimated. Federal funding for the conference is used for educational programs and to conduct business meetings, according to the conference’s website.
A spokesperson for the Ninth Circuit could not immediately be reached for comment.