Updated: 7:48 p.m.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) objected to recent Republican remarks that a judicial conference would be a waste of taxpayer money.
Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sent a letter Monday to the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit questioning the wisdom of holding a conference scheduled for August at a resort in Maui and seeking answers to a series of questions on the conference and previous conferences.
“Senator Grassley and Senator Sessions criticism of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit judicial conference on Maui is unjustified,” Inouye said in a statement. “My Republican colleagues are quick to link the unique leisure and cultural opportunities in Hawaii with an inability to do the very serious work of the court.”
In their letter, Grassley and Session charged that many extraneous activities, including yoga and surfing, make the conference program read “more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving the administration of justice.”
But Inouye defended the location as appropriate.
“The Ninth Circuit includes the state of Hawaii and it is the practice of every appeals court to hold their annual conference in a city within their jurisdiction,” Inouye continued. “This conference is no different. I resent the implication that no serious discussion can take place in Hawaii. We are much more than sunsets and beautiful beaches, as evidenced by Hawaii’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in November.”
Inouye stressed that it is important for the judicial officers to be familiar with the people for whom and to whom they administer justice.
“I want the judges and staff responsible for the interpretation of federal laws to spend some time in Hawaii and meet a few of the 1.3 million people and see some of the communities that will be impacted by their rulings,” Inouye said. “As a lawyer, I can tell you, it is one thing to judge from afar and quite another to see, firsthand, the citizens and the places affected by your actions.”
Grassley and Sessions also argued that in the wake of the scandal at the General Services Administration, which held a conference in 2010 that cost taxpayers more than $800,000, federal government conference spending requires new levels of scrutiny and should be reined in.
“It’s especially tone-deaf to plan a pricey conference after the GSA debacle,” Grassley said in a statement Monday. “The taxpayers can’t sustain this kind of spending, and they shouldn’t have to. The court should re-examine whether this is the best use of tax dollars.”
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) also issued a statement rebutting the Grassley-Sessions letter.
"The judges who issue powerful decisions that affect us all must get to know our people, our environment, and our traditions, so I am pleased Supreme Court Justices Kennedy and Alito are scheduled to join judges from the Ninth Circuit and other western jurisdictions at the conference," Akaka said.