Bill Aims to Prevent Federal Judges from Reading the Volokh Conspiracy:

From now on, federal judges will only be allowed to read blogs sponsored by the Federal Judicial Center, a government organization.

Well, not quite, but pending legislation does aim to prevent federal judges from attending seminars put on by George Mason's Law School's Law and Economics Center, among other educational centers. According to John Fund, who provides a detailed critique, the bill "would flatly ban federal judges from attending anything other than a government-sponsored program" [but see update beow].

If so, why let federal judges read the Volokh Conspiracy (and I know several prominent federal appellate judges who do)? After all, though most of us conspirators teach at state schools, we have not been vetted by the FJC. Three of us even teach at George Mason, and receive Summer research funding from the LEC. And as for the red herring of "corporate funding" (the LEC, for example, gets less than 10% of its funding from corporations, and does not disclose the funders, so there will be no question of quid pro quo), have you noticed that the VC carries ads? Sure, the VC doesn't provide transportation or accommodations, but we do provide the best legal commentary on the web for free. Given the implicit value of our time, this is much more valuable than an off-season stay at a resort. And we don't even demand that judges spend many hours doing background reading, unlike the LEC!

This whole non-issue has been stirred up by Doug Kendall's Soros-funded Community Rights Council. Recall that Kendall filed an ethics complaint against Sixth Circuit Judge Danny Boggs for serving on the board of FREE, a Montana-based free market environmentalist group that, among other things, runs education seminars for federal judges. Chief Judge Loken rejected the complaint, and wrote, "Reasonable people, unlike the complainant, do not presume a lack of integrity and impartiality from a judge's association with legitimate judicial education, no matter how controversial." And later (alluding also to related allegations against D.C. Circuit Judge Doug Ginsburg): "there is no factual foundation to support an inference of wrongdoing by anyone ... Rather these allegations typify the character assassination that is all too common in our nation's capital.... By use of this tactic, it is the complainant who is undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, not the judges complained of."

UPDATE: Tim Dowling from the CRC writes to point out that under the proposed legislation, federal judges would be able to attend (and receive travel reimbursements for) any "CLE sponsored by any bar association, any judicial association (including the National Judicial College and Federal Judicial Center), subject-matter bar associations, and the ABA's Judicial Division." Makes sense, because we all know that bar associations only have the public interest in mind, don't serve the cause of any particular interest group (such as attorneys...), and never take positions on controversial issues, right? And the Federal Judicial Center has money that grows on trees, and therefore is not susceptible to political pressure because Congress provides no funding, right? Well, anyway, we all know that giving government and self-serving interest groups a monopoly over any sort of education is the way to achieve high quality, apolitical, effective education.

Snarkiness aside, I'm puzzled by the inclusion of the NJC in the exemptions, given that it's a private 501(C)(3) organization that accepts donations from private sources, just like, say, the LEC. Among its donors are Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and a couple of tort reform groups. Sounds to me like the CRC is not standing for any principle here other than wanting to shut down the LEC and FREE. [Besides receiving funding from Congress, the FJC also receives funding from private, and at times highly ideological sources, e.g., the Ford Foundation, which it actively solicits.]

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the Judicial Education Bill:
  2. The Strange Effort to Limit Judicial Education:
  3. Bill Aims to Prevent Federal Judges from Reading the Volokh Conspiracy:
The Strange Effort to Limit Judicial Education: David B. blogs below about an amendment to limit judicial seminars; I have posted the text of the amendment here. As I read it, there are two parts. The first part caps the value of reimbursement for a judicial trip at $1,500 per trip, and $5,000 per year total unless it is officially sponsored by one of the listed official allowed sponsors. The second part bars all reimbursement for any trip if a significant purpose is "judicial education" unless it is officially sponsored by one of the listed official allowed sponsors.

  I have to say, I find this pretty bizarre. The first part seems designed to keep judges from taking reimbursed trips far away for more than a day or two (as at that point the value is likely to exceed $1,500). Or, if they want to stay for more than that, they need to start paying their own way or stay at a cheaper hotel. The second part is even weirder, as it seems to want to make sure that judges aren't educated unless it's a Congressionally-allowed group doing the educating. I guess the last thing you want is judges bein' too edumucated!

  I find the "approved groups" in the amendment rather strange, too. If a group of defense attorneys wants to put on a conference to teach judges about the intricacies of criminal procedure law, the judges have to pay their own way — every penny. On the other hand, if the Justice Department wants to put on the same conference for judges, slanted in the government's direction, it can be 5-star hotels and golf all around. The only way the defense attorneys can get around the bar is by forming (or taking over) a "subject matter bar association," which then restores their ability to offer reimbursement.

  What a strange amendment. I certainly hope it ends up going nowhere.
More on the Judicial Education Bill:

First, two corrections. The GMU Law and Economics Center used to keep its donor list confidential, but now discloses its donors to comply with a rule passed by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 2005. Also, I quoted John Fund as stating that the bill provided a flat ban on attending private judicial education seminars. Now that Orin has located the text of the bill, it seems clear that judges can attend any seminar they want, so long as the pay their own way.

Finally, I thought it would be worth more specifically noting what the bill would be protecting judges from, at least with regard to George Mason's LEC. Here is a list of the judicial education seminars (those not co-sponsored with circuit or state court orgainzations) planned for 2008:

Civil Society


Lincoln as President

Culture and Markets


Mill On Liberty

The Federalist Papers

Economic Analysis of Law

Science in the Courts

According to the LEC website, "LEC programs are either five-day institutes or two-day colloquia. Our institutes feature 21 hours of lectures or seminars over five full days, with about 500-700 pages of readings. LEC colloquia are conducted seminar style, with 7.5 hours of class time and about 250-300 pages of readings." Furthermore,

Our curriculum, faculty, invitation list and acceptance policy are determined solely by full time professors at George Mason University School of Law. Our contract letter with lecturers enjoins them to stay away from hot-button topics such as affirmative action. As well, our lecturers do not talk about tobacco, asbestos litigation, environmental issues or the like. When we discovered that a corporate donor had asserted in 1999 that they viewed us as key allies, we returned its contribution (about 0.003 of our support).

Our reimbursement policy covers only reasonable expenses. We assume the costs of lodging and meals at the conference site (on average about $350 per diem), and also reimburse for travel expenses up to a maximum of $500. Spouses are welcome as auditors, but we do not reimburse for any of their expenses. We do not sponsor or subsidize any entertainment or recreational events at our programs, which are academically intensive and demanding. Shortly after each program, we send to all participating judges a statement of the dollar value of the hotel and meals expenses.