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Ninth Circuit Conference Was Good for Hawaii's Self Esteem

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference wrapped up Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Maui, Hawaii.

Before we close the book on the conference that left a two-year hangover, we have a few final thoughts on the Ninth Circuit's conference planning and benefits.

  1. Hawaii doesn’t get enough love. Justice Anthony Kennedy, formerly a Ninth Circuit judge himself, expressed his support for bench conferences in general, (“The circuit conference is a prudent and a proper exercise of the judicial function”), and the exotic location specifically, (“It’s important that this conference meet frequently in Hawaii. There is a loveliness, even a loneliness in the Pacific that makes it fitting for us to search in quiet for the elegance and the beauty of the law”). The full text of Justice Kennedy’s flowery salute to the Aloha State is available on the Ninth Circuit website.
  2. Oh, wait. There was actual law, too? Here’s a little secret, in case you’ve never attended a legal conference: Most of your time is spent in a dim, chilly ballroom staring at a projection screen. Judging from the Ninth Circuit Public Information Office’s photos, the Maui conference rooms may have been warmer than your average CLE classroom, but all those lawyers and judges in the shorts and tank tops were still stuck indoors. The conference kicked off on Monday with Stanford Law Dean Kathleen Sullivan’s 90-minute review of the major Supreme Court cases from the 2011 Term.
  3. It’s a private matter. One of the more interesting panel discussions? Privacy Protection in the Internet Age. Between companies mining the personal information you willingly post online, and government attempts to expand access to your personal digital information, privacy is a more important issue than ever. University of Colorado Law School Professor Paul Ohm described it as an arms race between privacy invaders and defenders. “Those who would invade have been doing it a long time and those who would protect are much less organized,” Ohm said.

Two weeks before the conference, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski sent a letter to Senators Charles Grassley and Jeff Sessions — the most prominent critics of the Maui conference — explaining that the controversial conference location was set two years ago, before organizers realized that the economy would still be in the tank. By the time the media frenzy started in the spring, it was too late to turn back. Some will view the letter as an inadequate act of contrition, but Judge Kozinski has a point: It would have cost all of the participants more money to change the location on short notice in response to the public outcry.

(The Senators had a point, too. Even in 2010, many people would have agreed that booking a conference at a four-star hotel outside of the continental U.S. was a bad idea.)

Judicial conferences are supposed to be educational. Hopefully, both the judicial and the legislative branches learned something from this one.

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