Alex Kozinski

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Alex Kozinski
File:Alex Kozinski cropped.jpg
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
December 1, 2007 – December 1, 2014
Preceded by Mary Schroeder
Succeeded by Sidney Thomas
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Assumed office
November 7, 1985
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Seat established
Personal details
Born (1950-07-23) July 23, 1950 (age 71)
Bucharest, Romania
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles

Alex Kozinski (born July 23, 1950) is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where he has served since 1985. He was Chief Judge of that court from November 2007 to December 1, 2014. In addition to his judicial duties, Kozinski is an essayist and a judicial commentator.[1]


Kozinski was born to a Jewish family[2] in Bucharest, Romania, in July 1950. In 1962, when he was 12, his parents, both Holocaust survivors, brought him to the United States. The family settled in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, where his father, Moses, ran a small grocery store. Kozinski, who had grown up as a committed communist in Bucharest, became what he described as "an instant capitalist" when he took his first trip outside of the Iron Curtain, to Vienna, Austria, where he partook of such luxuries as chewing gum and bananas.[3]

Kozinski graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, receiving an A.B. degree in 1972, and from the UCLA School of Law, receiving a J.D. degree in 1975. Kozinski clerked for future Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Ninth Circuit from 1975 to 1976, and then for Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger from 1976 to 1977.

Office of Special Counsel

From June 5, 1981 to August 1982, Kozinski served as the first U.S. Special Counsel appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

While in the Office, despite staff recommendations against termination, Kozinski schooled Interior Secretary James Watt on how to fire mining safety whistleblower James Spadaro.[4]

Judicial career

In 1982, Kozinski was appointed chief judge at the newly formed United States Court of Federal Claims. In 1985, at the age of 35, Kozinski was appointed to a new seat at the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by President Reagan, making him the youngest federal appeals court judge at the time of appointment. He was confirmed in a 54 to 43 vote, largely along party lines.[5] During his tenure as a court of appeals judge, he has become a prominent feeder judge. Between 2009 and 2013, he placed nine of his clerks on the United States Supreme Court, the fifth most of any judge for that time period.[6] He has been particularly successful placing his clerks with Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he had himself clerked.[7]

In the 2000s, while defending the 9th Circuit against criticism because of a recent controversial decision, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Kozinski (who had not been part of the case) emphasized judicial independence: "It seems to me that this is what makes this country truly great—that we can have a judiciary where the person who appoints you doesn't own you."[8] He also took a stand against the charge that the Ninth Circuit is overly liberal: "I can say with some confidence that cries that the Ninth Circuit is so liberal are just simply misplaced."[9] On November 30, 2007, Kozinski became the tenth chief judge of the Ninth Circuit.[10] His term as chief judge ended on December 1, 2014, at which time he was succeeded by Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas.[11]

In 2008, The Los Angeles Times revealed Kozinski "maintained a publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos."[12] In reality, Kozinski had collected a "vast" number of images sent to him via e-mail over many years and retained them on a personal web server in his home. Only a "small fraction" of the images were offensive. Kozinski believed that only invited friends and family were able to view the directory of images.[13] Nonetheless, he called for an ethics investigation of himself.[14] In July 2009, a panel headed by Judge Anthony Scirica wrote that Kozinski should have administered his web server more carefully, but Kozinski's apology and deletion of the web site "properly conclude" the matter.[15][16]

Notable cases

Thompson v. Calderon

Thomas Martin Thompson had been convicted based largely on the testimony of his fellow inmates, and doubts about the effectiveness of his defense counsel led seven former California prosecutors to file briefs on Thompson's behalf. The Ninth Circuit originally denied Thompson's habeas petition attacking the state court decision. Two days before Thompson's scheduled execution, the Ninth Circuit en banc reversed (7–4) the earlier denial.

Kozinski dissented:

If the en banc call is missed for whatever reason, the error can be corrected in a future case where the problem again manifests itself. ... That this is a capital case does not change the calculus. The stakes are higher in a death case, to be sure, but the stakes for a particular litigant play no legitimate role in the en banc process.

Kozinski's opinion was criticized by Judge Steven Reinhardt, who called it "bizarre and horrifying" and "unworthy of any jurist."[17] The en banc decision was reversed by the Supreme Court, which called the Ninth Circuit's action "a grave abuse of discretion."[18]

White v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc.

Kozinski dissented from an order rejecting the suggestion for rehearing en banc an appeal filed by Vanna White against Samsung for depicting a robot on a Wheel of Fortune set, in a humorous advertisement. While the Ninth Circuit held in favor of White, Kozinski dissented, stating that "All creators draw in part on the work of those who came before, referring to it, building on it, poking fun at it; we call this creativity, not piracy."[19]

An extended extract from the opinion is widely quoted: "Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it. Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain. Nothing today, likely nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new: Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it's supposed to nurture".[20]

Kozinski's dissent in White is also famous for his sarcastic remark that "for better or worse, we are the Court of Appeals for the Hollywood Circuit."

Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc.

Yet another of Kozinski's high-profile cases was the lawsuit filed by Mattel against MCA Records, the record label of Danish pop-dance group Aqua, for "turning Barbie into a sex object" in their song "Barbie Girl." Kozinski opened the case with "If this were a sci-fi melodrama, it might be called Speech-Zilla meets Trademark Kong" and famously concluded his opinion with the words: "The parties are advised to chill."[21]

United States v. Ramirez-Lopez (2003)

The majority found the due process rights of a man accused of smuggling illegal immigrants across the border were not violated because witnesses who could have exonerated him were deported before they could be deposed. Despite winning, federal prosecutors, apparently pushed by Kozinski's dissent, dropped all charges and released the defendant.[22][23] In 2012, after prosecutors used similar tactics in another case, United States v. Leal-Del Carmen, Kozinski's position in Ramirez-Lopez became the law in the Ninth Circuit.[24][25]

United States v. Isaacs

Kozinski was assigned an obscenity case in which Ira Isaacs was accused of distributing videos depicting bestiality and other images, similar to the 1973 Miller v. California case.[26][27] During the trial, on June 11, 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kozinski had "maintained a publicly accessible Web site featuring sexually explicit photos and videos" at The Times reported that Kozinski's site included a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows, a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal, images of masturbation and public and contortionist sex, a slide show striptease featuring a transsexual, a series of photos of women's crotches as seen through snug fitting clothing or underwear, and content with themes of defecation and urination. Kozinski agreed that some of the material was inappropriate, but defended other content as "funny."[28]

Calling the coverage a "baseless smear" by a disgruntled litigant, Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig pointed out that the Times had unfairly taken the videos and pictures out of context in its descriptions. He wrote that one frequently mentioned video—the video described above as a "half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal," which actually involves a man running away from a donkey—is available on YouTube,[29] and is not, as is implied by the Times article, an example of bestiality. He also argued that the Kozinski family's right to privacy was violated when the disgruntled litigant exposed the private files which were not intended for public viewing. Lessig compared this to breaking and entering a private residence.[30]

Kozinski initially refused to comment on disqualifying himself,[31] then granted a 48-hour stay after the prosecutor requested time to explore "a potential conflict of interest."[28] On June 13, Kozinski petitioned an ethics panel to investigate his own conduct. He asked Chief Justice John Roberts to assign the inquiry to a panel of judges outside the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction. Also, he said that his son, Yale, and his family or friends may have been responsible for posting some of the material.[32][33]

Kozinski had previously been involved in a dispute over government monitoring of federal court employees' computers. Administrative Office head Ralph Mecham dropped the monitoring program, but protested in the press.[34]

On June 15, 2008, it was reported that Kozinski had recused himself from the case.[35] On June 5, 2009, the Judicial Council of the Third Circuit issued an opinion clearing Kozinski of any wrongdoing.[36][37]

Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepherd

In February 2013, Kozinski wrote an opinion reversing a district court ruling denying Japanese whalers Institute of Cetacean Research a preliminary injunction against the US-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Kozinski found that the militant conservationist group were "pirates", reversed the denial of injunction by the district court, and affirmed its own provisional injunction against Sea Shepherd. The injunction bars Sea Shepherd from approaching within 500 yards of ICS vessels.[38][39] Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson dismissed the opinion as "entirely devoid of real evidence" and claimed that Sea Shepherd USA was in full compliance with the injunction.[40]

Wood v. Ryan

In July 2014, Joseph Rudolph Wood, who had been sentenced to death, filed a motion before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals claiming a right to know which chemicals were included in the lethal injection that was to be used to execute him. While the court denied his motion, Kozinski issued a dissenting opinion, calling the use of drugs a "misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful." He went on to argue that states should revert to more primitive methods like the guillotine, electric chair, gas chamber, and firing squads because they are accurate and do not mask the brutality. He wrote, "Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn't be carrying out executions at all."[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48] Wood's execution would subsequently take 1 hour 57 minutes before he was pronounced dead.[47]


Kozinski has won admirers across the political spectrum who praise his "common sense" decisions, his libertarian instinct, and sense of humor.[1] His essays have been featured in publications such as Slate, The New Yorker, The New Republic and National Review.[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 David A. Golden (1992), Humor, the Law, and Judge Kozinski's Greatest Hits, Brigham Young University Law Review: 513.
  2. Washington Post: "“Mondoweiss” is a hate site (Update)" by David Bernstein May 4, 2015
  3. Welch, Matt; Krainin, Todd (March 8, 2013). "Judge Alex Kozinski: From Communist Romania to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals". Retrieved March 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Mining Whistleblower Speaks Out Against Massey", Institute for Policy Studies, Daphne Wysham, July 23, 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  5. Jackson, Robert L.; Hager, Philip (November 8, 1985). "Senate Narrowly Confirms Kozinski as Appeals Judge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 11, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Stras, David (Fall 2014). "Secret Agents: Using Law Clerks Effectively". Marquette Law Review. 98: 157.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Baum, Lawrence; Ditslear, Cory (March 2010). "Supreme Court Clerkships and "Feeder" Judges". Justice System Journal. National Center for State Courts. 31 (1): 41–42.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Online NewsHour: Debate Brews over Splitting 9th Circuit Court – January 17, 2005
  9. Michaels, Spencer (January 17, 2005). Controversial Court. NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
  10. Gavel Passing to Mark Changing of the Guard for Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit Public Information Office news release, November 23, 2007.
  11. "Judge from Billings to Lead Federal Appeals Court" Houston Chronicle, November 23, 2014
  12. "9th Circuit's chief judge posted sexually explicit matter on his website". The Los Angeles Times. June 11, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Panel Decision
  14. Slater, Dan (June 17, 2008). "CJ Roberts Assigns East Coast Judges to Kozinski Investigation". The Wall Street Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "L.A. Now". The Los Angeles Times. July 2, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Panel Decision
  17. Bazelon, Emily. The Big Kozinski. LegalAffairs, January–February 2004. Retrieved on April 30, 2006.
  18. Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 542 (1998).
  19. White v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc., 989 F.2d 1512, 1512 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc).
  21. Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894, 908 (9th Cir. 2002).
  22. Weinstein, Henry (April 23, 2003). "Appeal Lost, Yet Freedom Won". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 17, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, 315 F.3d 1143 (9th Cir. 2003).
  24. Hull, Tim (September 14, 2012). "Prosecutors Told to Stop Deporting Witnesses". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved September 17, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. United States v. Carmen, no. 11-50094 (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2012) ("We had assumed, following Ramirez-Lopez, that the government would refrain from putting aliens who could provide exculpatory evidence beyond the reach of the court and defense counsel. But whatever wisdom the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California gained in Ramirez-Lopez appears to have applied to that case and that defendant only. We change that today."). Retrieved March 19, 2014.
  26. Kim Zetter (2008-06-11). "Chief Judge in Obscenity Case Caught Posting Porn". WIRED.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. USLaw (2008-08-11). "What "Stuff" was on Judge Kozinski's Personal Website?". Celebrity Justice.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. 28.0 28.1 Scott Glover (2008-06-11). "9th Circuit's chief judge posted sexually explicit matter on his website". Los Angeles Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Donkey Rapes Man on YouTube
  30. Lessig, Lawrence (June 12, 2008). The Kozinski mess.
  31. Adam Liptak, "Calif. Trial Focuses on Pornography: Los Angeles Jury Will Decide If Videos Are Obscene," New York Times, June 12, 2008, A21.
  32. Associated Press (June 13, 2008). California: Judge Calls for Inquiry Into His Conduct Over Web Site.
  33. Blood, Michael R. (June 13, 2008)., Calif judge wants panel to probe his porn postings, Associated Press. Archived June 17, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  34. Slater, Dan (June 11, 2008). "A Look Back at Judge Kozinski's Attack on Monitoring Court Computers". The Wall Street Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. eFluxMedia report Archived June 20, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  36. Jones, Ashby (July 2, 2009). "A 'Pleased' Kozinski Cleared of Wrongdoing". WSJ Law Blog. Retrieved September 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. In re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, J.C. No. 03-08-90050, Judicial Council of the Third Circuit (June 5, 2009).
  38. "US judge labels anti-whaling group 'pirates'". AFP. 2013-02-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Keith Herting (2013-02-27). "Federal appeals court rules anti-whaling group modern-day 'pirates'".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Ten Questions With Answers from the Southern Ocean", Sea Shepherd, 2013-02-27<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Pilkington, Ed (21 July 2014). "Top judge attacks lethal injection as Arizona fails in death penalty appeal". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Longo, Adam (25 July 2014). "NEWS Federal judge suggests guillotine, firing squad be used for executions". KSAT ABC 12. Retrieved 28 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. Gershman, Jacob. "Judge Kozinski: Bring Back the Firing Squad". Wall Street Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. Barbash, Fred. "Guillotine, firing squads better than lethal injection, says prominent federal judge".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. "Federal judge urges return of firing squad". USA Today. 24 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. de Vogue, Ariane. "Federal Judge Favors 'More Primitive' but 'Foolproof' Firing Squad".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  47. 47.0 47.1 Thornhill, Ted (24 July 2014). "U.S. appeals judge called for return of firing squads just days before latest botched lethal injection – but said the GUILLOTINE is probably the best method".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  48. Dolan, Maura. "Executions should be by firing squad, federal appeals court judge says". LA Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links

Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Preceded by
Mary Schroeder
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
Sidney Thomas