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Alex Kozinski (born 23 July 1950) is a Romanian American jurist. He is currently Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and an essayist and judicial commentator.


Kozinski was born in Bucharestmarker, Romaniamarker. In 1962, when he was 12, his parents, both Holocaust survivors, brought him to the United Statesmarker. The family settled in Los Felizmarker, Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, where his father, Moses, ran a small grocery store.

Kozinski graduated from University of California, Los Angelesmarker, receiving an A.B. degree in 1972, and from UCLA School of Law, receiving a J.D. degree in 1975.

Shortly after law school, Kozinski challenged an incorrectly dated traffic ticket in Kozinski v. Gates and won.

Judicial career

Kozinski's first judicial appointment was as chief judge at the newly formed United States Court of Federal Claims in 1982.

In 1985, aged 35, Kozinski was appointed to a new seat at the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by President Ronald Reagan, making him the youngest federal appeals court judge in the country. Defending the court against criticism because of a controversial decision, Kozinski went on record emphasizing the independence of the judges: "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." He also took a stand against the charge that the Ninth Circuit Court is overly liberal, which led some to call it "The Notorious Ninth": "And yet I can say with some confidence that cries that the Ninth Circuit is so liberal are just simply misplaced." On November 30, 2007, Judge Kozinski received the gavel as the tenth Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2008, according to The Los Angeles Times, he "maintained a publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos." . In response, Judge Kozinski called for an ethics investigation of himself.

Notable cases

Calderon v. Thompson

One of the most controversial cases that Judge Kozinski had a role in was the murder case of Thomas Martin Thompson. Thompson had been convicted by a prosecution that relied heavily on the testimony of his jail inmates, and there were doubts in the efficiency of his defense that even led seven former California prosecutors into filing briefs on Thompson's behalf. Four days before the scheduled execution, the Ninth voted 7 to 4 to give Thompson a new trial on the grounds of procedural misunderstandings. Kozinski dissented, disagreeing that there had been a formal error and stating:
"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."
This opinion, that correct proceedings were more important than preventing a judicial error that would result in an execution, was vehemently opposed by his old friend Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who called it "bizarre and horrifying" and "unworthy of any jurist". The Ninth Circuit's judgment was reversed on appeal by the Supreme Court, which called the Ninth Circuit's action "a grave abuse of discretion."

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."

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".

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 Hollywoodmarker Circuit."

Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc.

Yet another of Kozinski's high-profile cases to date was the lawsuit filed by Mattel against MCA Records, the record label of Danishmarker 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."

United States v. Isaacs

Kozinski was assigned an obscenity case in which Ira Isaacs is accused of distributing videos depicting bestiality and other images, similar to the 1973 Miller v. California case. 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."

Calling the coverage a "baseless smear" by a disgruntled litigant, Stanford Universitymarker 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, 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.

Kozinski initially refused to comment on disqualifying himself, then granted a 48-hour stay after the prosecutor requested time to explore "a potential conflict of interest." 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.

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.

On June 15, 2008, it was reported that Kozinski had recused himself from the case.


Kozinski has won admirers across the political spectrum who praise what many admirers feel to be "common sense" decisions, his libertarian instinct, and his sense of humor. As an essayist, his writing is clear and often light-hearted, and has been featured in mainstream publications such as Slate, The New Yorker, The New Republic and National Review. He also has a reputation as an active and sometimes intimidating questioner during oral argument. Because English is not his native language, he spoke for years with a strong accent which was often surprising to lawyers who are familiar only with his distinctive writing style.

See also



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