After 20 years of drawing federal judges to retreats in Montana, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment is scaling back. John Baden, the libertarian economist who leads FREE, said in an interview on Oct. 12 that the group’s most recent conference, in late August and early September, will be its last. Baden said he’ll continue teaching but shift his focus from judges to religious leaders, who he thinks could benefit from economics.
The end of FREE’s junkets is an unambiguously positive development, but a shockingly large number of judges accepted FREE’s free junkets during the 20 years FREE provided them. Those judges include two Fifth Circuit judges who, at the urging of the oil industry, shut down one of the Obama Administration’s most important efforts to reduce the risk of another volcano of oil being set off in the Gulf of Mexico, and Judge Roger Vinson, the Tea Party judge in Florida who handed down an error-laden opinion striking down the entire Affordable Care Act. It also includes Chief Judge Edith Jones, the chief judge of the notoriously right-wing Fifth Circuit.
Three of FREE’s board members, Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Clement and Sixth Circuit Judges Alice Batchelder and Danny Boggs, are sitting federal judges — despite an ethics opinion from a committee of federal judges saying that it is unethical for Batchelder, Boggs and Clement to help lead this junketing organization.