GOP senators again ask 9th Circuit to abandon $1M Hawaii conference

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday warned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again that it should cancel its planned August conference in Hawaii, which the senators estimate will cost more than $1 million.

"During this time of extraordinary debt, and given the history of opulence — including repeated trips to the Hawaiian Islands — we believe you should cancel the million-dollar conference," they wrote in their July 13 letter to Alex Kozinski, chief judge for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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The letter followed their May letter to Kozinski that asked for detailed information about the cost of the Maui conference, and Kozinski's June reply. Sessions and Grassley said that June letter failed to answer most of their questions, and seemed mostly to defend the junket.

"We find your answer unsatisfactory," Sessions and Grassley wrote. "Your response, almost without reservation, states the Conference will go on."

Part of Kozinski's reply in June was that the 9th Circuit was authorized by law to hold conferences. But Sessions and Grassley dismissed that answer, and warned that Congress might move to change the law to prevent spending on lavish conferences.

"[S]urely you recognize that the congressional authorization for the Circuit's judges to meet and discuss court business is not an invitation to gather annually at the most expensive and far-flung island paradise within the Circuit," they wrote. "If it is necessary to amend the statute to reflect that fact, we will work to do so."

The senators' letter went on to say that based on their examination of the conference, there is no requirement for judges to attend any of the formal events.

"Indeed, a member of your staff admitted in a phone conversation with one Senate staff that judges and employees could fly to Maui at the expense of the taxpayer and not participate in any even related to the Conference," they wrote.

They also said Kozinski's reply "seem[ed] to ignore" the senators' concerns about the price of the conference, and said it was not forthcoming about specific costs, such as the cost of the conference facilities.

As a result, they asked again for detailed cost information about this upcoming conference and other conferences, in addition to asking for details on "reward points" earned by participants for flying to various conferences and other details.