The United States was still emerging from several recessionary-plagued years when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit scheduled its annual conference in Maui at an estimated cost of over $500,000. The confab drew a lot of negative press coverage, and Sen. Charles Grassley proposed limiting judicial conferences to $100,000 a year.
That was 1995. Fast forward 18 years and the same drama is playing out this week, as Grassley and Sen. Jeff Sessions have called out the Ninth Circuit, saying this year's conference “reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice.”
Not much seems different about this year's extravaganza from 1994's. The 1994 version had free time built in for golf and snorkeling; this year, Grassley and Sessions are complaining that a golf tournament and surfing lessons are on the agenda. (The conference also will feature meaty seminars on topics like mobile computing and sentencing policy. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito are expected to attend.) Back then the court asserted that it didn't cost any more to send federal judges and staff from all over the west to Hawaii than it would to, say, San Diego or Portland. In a prepared statement today, the court made the same non-smell-test-passing claim.
One difference, though: This is the second time in two years the Ninth Circuit has located its conference in the Aloha state, a departure from recent practice.
After the congressional fallout from the 1995 conference, the court kept the conference in the continental 48 for the next seven years, convening in Portland, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Sun Valley, Bozeman and San Diego the following years. Hawaii came back into play in 2003, then again in 2007, 2010 and now 2012.
Maybe Grassley is secretly working with Ninth Circuit Judges Milan Smith and Diarmuid O'Scannlain to drum some tourist business back up for Portland.