Judges' educational trips look more like 'luxury vacations,' Fix the Court says

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According to a list by court transparency group Fix the Court, 31 appellate judges have taken at least 76 trips to luxury hotels, some of which were located more than 700 miles from a seminar sponsor’s headquarters. Image from Shutterstock.

Dozens of U.S. federal appeals court judges have attended judicial education seminars that closely resemble “luxury vacations” in recent years, a court transparency group said in a new report.

On Monday, court transparency group Fix the Court published a list of 31 appellate judges’ privately funded trips to resorts between August 2020 and August 2023. According to the list, those judges have taken at least 76 trips to luxury hotels, some of which were located more than 700 miles from the seminar sponsor’s headquarters.

Fix the Court also published a letter that it sent to Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, on Aug. 10, urging her to work with her colleagues in the Judicial Conference of the United States to investigate these seminars and ensure that ethical protocols are being followed.

As one example, several judges attended a weeklong colloquium sponsored by George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in June. According to Fix the Court, it was hosted at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, Alaska, and 4,300 miles away from the law school’s campus. The group said amenities included a Nordic spa and aerial tram with views of seven glaciers.

Fix the Court additionally pointed out that some presentations “were more doctrinaire than one would expect at a purportedly nonpartisan educational colloquium.” This includes a discussion of “bad” U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including its 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

“To any reasonable person, this level of luxury, coupled in many cases with the content of the seminars, appears inconsistent with Canon 2 of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which states, ‘A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety in all activities,’” Fix the Court said in the letter to Mauskopf.

Reuters, which has coverage, reported that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had no immediate comment.

Fix the Court noted that its list of appellate judges’ trips is likely “an undercount,” as the group is still examining seminars that were hosted at resorts in Florida, Hawaii and Utah, as well as Spain and the United Kingdom.

“One suggestion would be to require judges to list on their seminar disclosure reports the cost of their (and when applicable, their spouses) free flights, hotels, meals and entertainment, as members of Congress would have to do were they to attend similar events,” Fix the Court said in its letter.

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