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Judge Stevens has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court of the US.

He had a long career on the bench, spanning 35 years. His most prominent opinions include the following.

  • He wrote the majority opinion in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica, 1978, in which he held that the FCC has the power to ban ‘indecent’ speech in radio broadcasting.
  • He dissented in Texas v Johnson, 1989, the case where the Supreme court held that flag-burning as a means of political protest is protected under the First Amendment. In his dissent, an embarrassingly incoherent and ad-hoc piece of writing in my opinion, Stevens claimed that because the ideas of liberty and equality are worth protecting, the flag (which uniquely symbolizes these ideas) is also worth protecting.
  • He wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v City of New London, 2005, the egregious decision which handed the government the right to seize private property from individuals and hand it over to privately held corporations.
  • He dissented in D.C. v Heller, 2008, the landmark case which held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for private self-defense.
  • He dissented in Citizens United v FEC, 2010, where the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right of incorporated organizations (which includes NGOs, labor unions and companies) to fund independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. In my opinion, this case was the biggest victory for free speech in the last five years.

As the above examples make clear, Judge Stevens was on the wrong side of individual liberty in some of the most important cases of his time on the bench. Yes, some of his other opinions did further the cause of liberty, typically cases that involved detainee rights. But on the whole, this libertarian is glad to see Judge Stevens go.

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Since the Judge Kozinski story broke three days ago, I have frequently visited The Volokh Conspiracy hoping that Eugene Volokh — an outstanding blogger who I frequently cite —  would post on the issue. My interest was piqued not only because I admire Kozinski — a brilliant judge with a libertarian streak — but because Volokh had once clerked for him. Here is the expected post, at last.

I’ve tried to avoid blogging about the Judge Kozinski story, because I’m so obviously biased on the subject. I clerked for the Judge. The Judge officiated at my wedding. I talk to him often. I consider him a close friend, he’s taught me a huge amount, and he’s helped me tremendously in my career, and not just by giving me a valuable credential. What I say on the matter will naturally and properly be discounted because of my bias. Still, I can’t help myself any longer, so I’ll pass along what I think, and you can give it whatever credit you think is due.

Here is a link to the rest of Volokh’s article, which I recommend. I agree completely with all his points. However, I am a tad disapponted that he places so much emphasis on the fact that the images on the judge’s site were tame. In other words, while I agree with his conclusion, 

We should all leave Kozinski to his own privately expressed sense of humor, as we’d like the world to leave us to ours,

I would have been happier if he had added it didn’t really matter even if that sense of humour was much racier than what it actually is.

It would be a great day for freedom when the obscenity law is finally repealed. The root of the current controversy is that Kozinski was also going to officiate this case.  Of course, because of the controversy, he has now recused himself from it. The defence, I suppose, would have fancied their chances if he had remained the judge — Kozinski has always known to be a staunch defender of free speech. The prosecution must be chortling with glee.

On another note, I really hope that the LA Times, which broke the story, publishes a retraction and offers Kozinski an apology. They have displayed an astonishing lack of journalistic integrity in their coverage of the matter. It has, to put it lightly, been full of misleading errors. For instance, they said that one of the images showed a man ‘cavorting’ with a donkey when it wasn’t even close to that. But if the LA Times did apologize to this supposedly conservative judge, it wouldn’t really be the LA Times any more, would it?

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