Opening Statements

Stormy Weather: Senators Criticize Kozinski over Maui Conference

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Harsh words from two U.S. senators over the decision to hold the 9th Judicial Circuit’s annual conference at a resort in sunny Hawaii this past summer have left the future of the event a bit cloudy.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, blasted the four-day, million dollar-plus event in letters to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski months before it opened Aug. 13.

The senators questioned the wisdom of a taxpayer-funded gathering at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa at a time when the nation’s economy was faltering and requested the conference be canceled or scaled back. They also criticized optional activities like golf and yoga, even though the government doesn’t foot the bill for such diversions. Kozinski would not cancel, saying the conference was planned two years earlier, making it difficult to predict the country’s current economic crisis. He did agree to reschedule the 2013 conference to 2014 in Monterey, Calif. “Had we foreseen the nation’s current fiscal problems, we may have chosen a different site for this year’s conference,” the judge replied.

The chief judge did not address long-term plans for the conference, held since 1944. Sen. Grassley found it hard to square the lavish plans with the state of the economy, but thought Kozinski ultimately did the right thing. “The cancellation … is a good test of whether expensive annual conferences are necessary and whether the ‘administration of justice’ suffers in the absence,” he said in a statement.

The conference went as scheduled with Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy defending the gathering in his remarks. “If the American public knows, and they should know, of what we do at this conference, they would be and should be immensely proud.”

Kennedy left his audience with some deeper thoughts to ponder: “It’s important that this conference meet frequently in Hawaii. There is a loveliness, even a loneliness, in the Pacific that makes it fitting for us to search in quiet for the elegance and the beauty of the law.”

Plus, Hawaii is part of the 9th Circuit.

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