The same is true of judicial seminars. A good one will expose participants to ideas and let them think through those ideas. Several years ago, the late Richard Arnold, then a judge on the Eighth Circuit, attended a seminar organized by the free-market Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, which is affiliated with Montana State University. He lauded the "intellectual quality" of the presentation and added, "it may never help me decide a specific case, but it will broaden the minds of all those that heard it, and that's more important."
Some opponents claim that judges might be influenced by these seminars to consider social science research and to better evaluate expert testimony. But weighing evidence and evaluating experts is what judges do. Don't they listen daily to lawyers on both sides who want to sway their opinion?
As the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct says in its guidelines, "the education of judges in various academic disciplines serves the public interest. That a lecture or seminar may emphasize a particular viewpoint or school of thought does not in itself preclude a judge from attending. Judges are continually exposed to competing views and arguments and are trained to weigh them."
As a safety net, judges are required to disclose which seminars they attend. And, as Rehnquist once put it, "existing legal and ethics provisions quite properly restrict judges from accepting benefits from parties to litigation before them and provide for disqualification in any instance where a judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
We trust judges to make decisions on a wide variety of topics. Surely we can trust them to attend seminars without compromising their integrity. As is so often the case, the solution isn't more federal laws or a federal monopoly on education, just more common sense.
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