"How does it look? It doesn’t look good." CAC Hails the Demise of Junketing Program for Federal Judges

CAC President Doug Kendall: “This is a victory for the judiciary, one that the nation as a whole should welcome.”

Washington, DC – Today, Constitutional Accountability Center is applauding news that the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) – a Montana-based organization that takes money from corporations to promote what the organization calls “free-market environmentalism” – has announced it will stop providing vacation junkets where federal judges were wined, dined, and told how and why they should strike down environmental safeguards. Since 1998, CAC and Community Rights Counsel (CAC’s predecessor organization) have called for a ban on these junkets. We have been joined in this call by current and former judges, Members of Congress, experts on judicial ethics, and dozens of editorial boards from some of the nation’s leading newspapers.

CAC President Doug Kendall said, “FREE’s trips have been an ethical stain on the reputation of the federal judiciary for years. After disclosure rules mandated by Chief Justice John Roberts shined sunlight on FREE’s operations, and after the December 2010 release of the Code of Conduct Committee’s unequivocal declaration that judges may not sit on the FREE Board, it was only a matter of time before FREE would be forced to abandon their junkets,” Kendall said. “This is a victory for the judiciary, one that the nation as a whole should welcome.”

Calls for federal judges to resign from FREE’s Board

One of the main reasons some federal judges felt comfortable taking FREE’s trips is that for the entire life of FREE’s operation, prominent federal judges have sat on the organization’s Board of Directors. That is not right. Less than one year ago, in December 2010, CAC publicized the previously undisclosed ruling of the Committee on Codes of Conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States – responsible for interpreting the federal code of judicial ethics – that a federal judge violates the Code of Conduct for United States Judges by serving on the Board of FREE. While three current members of the U.S. Court of Appeals – Judge Alice M. Batchelder (6th Cir.), Judge Danny Boggs (6th Cir.), and Judge Edith Brown Clement (5th Cir.) – have remained on FREE’s Board despite this unequivocal mandate, the publication of this ruling put FREE and these judges in a completely untenable position, apparently convincing them to close up the junketing shop.

Corporations paying FREE to lobby federal judges

In May 2006, CRC broke the news that documents from Exxon Mobil and Phillip Morris showed that the two corporations had donated substantial funds to two top junket hosts, including FREE. These funds went directly into programs that “educated” federal judges on issues of importance to those corporations. As CAC President Doug Kendall said, “Essentially, Exxon Mobil and Phillip Morris were paying FREE to lobby federal judges on their issues.” When questioned by the Washington Post in 2006, FREE’s then-executive vice president, Pete Geddes, answered, “How does it look? It doesn’t look good.”



“No More FREE Trips For Judges,” David Ingram, October 17, 2011, National Law Journal (subs req.): http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/legaltimes/PubArticleLT.jsp?id=1202518990752&slreturn=1

“Junkets Timeline (1998-2008),” Community Rights Counsel: http://www.communityrights.org/ExposesJudicialLobbying/Junkets/timeline.asp

“Community Rights Counsel Hails New Rules on Junkets,” September 19, 2006: http://www.communityrights.org/Newsroom/crcNewsReleases/JudConf91906.asp

“CAC Asks Three Federal Judges To Resign From FREE’s Board of Directors, Citing Ethics Opinion,” December 9, 2010: http://theusconstitution.org/blog.history/?p=2400

Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, “Key People”: http://www.free-eco.org/staff.php

“Tobacco and Oil Company Documents Undercut Groups’ Claims to Media, Judges and Public About Corporate Funding for Judges’ Junkets,” Community Rights Counsel, May 24, 2006: http://www.communityrights.org/Newsroom/crcNewsReleases/TOB5-24-06.asp

“Firms Donated to Groups That Gave Judges Free Trips,” Eric M. Weiss, May 25, 2006, Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/24/AR2006052402466.html


Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.