Senator Jon Kyl is at or very, very near the top of my list of favorite senators, so, like John Fund, Paul Mirengoff, Jonathan Adler and Andy McCarthy, I’m surprised and disappointed to learn that he has signed onto legislation proposed by Senator Russ Feingold that would effectively cripple or kill judicial-education programs that are not run by government bureaucrats or bar-association activists. Specifically, the Feingold legislation, which is being offered as an amendment to a judicial pay-raise bill pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, would permit federal judges taking part in judicial-education programs to accept reimbursement for (or a gift of) travel, lodging, and other travel-related needs only for those programs run by the government or by bar associations.
As I discussed in my essay “George Soros’s Two Left Hands,” a primary victim of such legislation would be the academically rigorous programs in economics, philosophy, and history offered by the George Mason University Law and Economics Center. The fact that various federal courts of appeals and state court systems have enlisted George Mason to provide the academic content for their annual conferences speaks powerfully to the quality and integrity of its programs. Further, the Judicial Conference of the United States has emphasized that there is a “compelling need” for “continuing education of judges in law, science, history, economics, sociology, philosophy, and other disciplines”—education that the sources that the Feingold amendment would permit are ill-equipped to provide.
The Feingold amendment would also impose a “single trip or event” limit of $1500 and an aggregate annual trip-or-event limit of $5000 on the travel, food, lodging, reimbursement, and outside earned income that federal judges could receive from entities other than governments or bar associations. This would have a severe effect on the availability of federal judges to teach courses or seminars sponsored by law schools and to serve as moot-court judges.
Various provisions of statutory law, together with Judicial Conference regulations, govern outside earned income and judicial education for federal judges. I haven’t seen anyone make a serious case that the current system is inadequate, and I don’t see how the Feingold amendment would achieve anything desirable.