“Governing with the Gavel” Event Discusses Federal Courts

Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Stephen Reinhardt ’51, Pomona alumnus and current circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, came to Pomona’s Edmunds Ballroom to speak at PSU’s “Governing with the Gavel?” on Nov. 12.Scott Levy PO ’10, the vice president of development of PSU who helped plan and organize the event, explained that the idea had actually come out of a discussion with former Pomona professor, Justin Crowe.“[Professor Crowe] and I were talking about good legal events, and who lives in the area, and he mentioned that Reinhardt was a Pomona alum, and I started planning for the event shortly after that,” Levy said.The event, which was moderated by Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Michael Teter PO ‘99, consisted of a series of questions and responses by both judges regarding the proper role of judges and courts in the United States.Although the format was intended to facilitate discussion rather than debate, the speakers often did not see eye to eye on key issues.Levy explained that judges had asked to have more of a discussion format than a formal debate. Nonetheless, Levy added, they often did not see eye to eye on key issues.“While it was a discussion, I think there was a lot of disagreement and lot of strong back-and-forth,” Levy said.The first question Teter asked the judges was whether or not they agreed with Alexander Hamilton when he wrote that the federal judiciary branch is the least dangerous branch of the federal government.Kozinski responded by insisting that there is a difference between “least dangerous” and “not dangerous.”One of the chief dangers of the federal judiciary branch, he said, is the lifetime appointment federal judges have.“There are all of these things that judges cannot do that the other branches of government can do, which inherently makes judges less dangerous,” Kozinski said. “That having been said, the power that judges do have is quite significant. If you happen to agree with a judge’s notion of what justice is, then of course you will applaud what that judge does. But, if you disagree, there’s nothing you can do about it.”Reinhardt echoed Kozinski’s arguments, though he was less critical of the lifetime appointment system.He also explained the reasoning behind lifetime appointments for federal judges, and why they are so important.“No system that you’re going to have is perfect,” Reinhardt said. “Any system can produce bad results. Part of the main role of judges is to enforce the constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is there to protect minorities against the will of the majority. If judges were elected, they would have to adhere to the wishes of the majority, even if it went against the constitution.”Teter also asked about the role of moral values in interpreting laws and the constitution; both judges touched on whether the mores of the American people should affect the courts’ decisions.Reinhardt responded by insisting that judges’ and citizens’ values are essential to interpreting laws.“Because the founding fathers did not know the answer to all the problems, they set forth a couple basic principles and left it to the people in the future and the courts in the future to interpret [them],” Reinhardt said.Reinhardt also countered Kozinski’s suggestion to put every major issue to democratic vote by explaining that the Bill of Rights prohibits that very idea and that such a process would take too much time.On the question of whether judges should be subject to impeachments, both judges seemed to agree.Both responded by insisting that the Constitution clearly demands that federal judges have lifetime appointments, a statute they both supported. For this reason, they argued, impeachments of federal judges should only be used in very extreme cases.“The Constitution has grounds for impeachment,” Kozinski said. “You have to find one of those to have an impeachment [of federal judges]….Just because I disagree with a judge, does not mean that judge should be impeached.”Reinhardt expressed a similar sentiment.“Of course judges should not be impeached because of their decisions,” Reinhardt said. “The whole point of life tenure is that [judges] can be independent. They can do something even if the public disagrees with it, even if Congress disagrees with it. They should be free to do what is right without fearing impeachment.”During the event, the judges also discussed the wording of the eighth amendment, including the “cruel and unusual punishment” provision, the confirmation process federal judges must go through and its efficacy, and whether the description of judges as umpires calling “balls and strikes” is accurate.Overall, Levy felt that the event went very well. “It was a pretty complicated topic and I think [the two judges] handled it in a way that made it approachable and accessible for a lot of people. I was pleased with how it went.”

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