KAANAPALI - Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said Hawaii is an ideal place for federal 9th Circuit judges, lawyers and other court officials to continue learning, as he spoke Tuesday afternoon to a gathering of Maui attorneys.
"There's a loveliness and a loneliness and a serenity in Hawaii's islands and the Pacific, which makes it ideal to re-examine our purpose," Kennedy said during a special session with about 75 members of the Maui County Bar Association at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. "The verdict of freedom is still out. Half the world is watching us. It's not just a duty to be here, but it's also a pleasure."
Kennedy is on Maui for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Conference. It has drawn about 600 participants from nine western states and the Pacific, along with some criticism about the conference's expense and location.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy talks with Maui County Deputy Prosecutor Simone Polak after the justice held a special session with Maui County Bar Association members Tuesday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. Waiting to meet the justice is 2nd Circuit District Judge Kelsey Kawano.
The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo
Mayor Alan Arakawa, who opened the session, said that Maui was no different from other locations, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Florida, where there are visitor attractions as well as opportunities for serious discussion of issues.
Arakawa said he was thankful that the conference is being held here. "It stands as a very strong message for us that Maui is where we really do very serious business, and we do take things very seriously," he said.
While two Republican senators had called for the conference to be canceled or scaled back, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who spoke briefly at the session, said: "So long as I'm chief judge, we're not going to back down."
During the session lasting about 45 minutes, Kennedy said that "part of the problem of the Supreme Court is we're removed."
"One of the reasons appellate judges find it important to come to conferences is they can be very candid about finding ways we can improve the administration of justice," he said.
Kennedy outlined the work of the Supreme Court, which includes receiving about 10,000 petitions a year and agreeing to take up 80 to 100 cases. After attorneys file briefs, oral arguments lasting an hour are heard before justices discuss a case, Kennedy said. He said the justices vote within 48 hours of hearing arguments.
"After the vote, there's a moment of awe as we realize one of us is going to have to write the opinion," Kennedy said. "We're judged by what we write. If it's a case that's of great public interest, you write in order to command allegiance to the Constitution."
He recalled the 1989 flag-burning case Texas v. Johnson, in which the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to invalidate state prohibitions on desecrating the American flag.
In a concurring opinion, Kennedy wrote that "the flag protects even those who hold it in contempt."
While some were immediately infuriated by the decision, "things change," Kennedy said. A while later, he recalled being recognized by a man at a restaurant in Ukiah, Calif., who supported the decision after reading the opinion. "That's how the process works best - when we explain," Kennedy said.
As he was ending his remarks to the gathering Tuesday, Kennedy said: "It's a thrill to be here in Hawaii, this bastion of democracy. We'll be back again, mayor. You can count on it."
Tracy Jones, a Maui County deputy prosecutor and vice president of the Maui County Bar Association, made arrangements for the special session, which was attended by some Hawaii 2nd Circuit judges and retired judges as well as both government and private attorneys.
"I am delighted that the 9th Circuit conference organizers have been generous enough to welcome us to the gathering and allow us this access to the justices," Jones said. "For us, it's time to break away from our everyday issues and just think big about what is our true role in our profession and what are our responsibilities to the practice of law."
"It was incredible," said Wailuku attorney Matson Kelley, president of the Maui County Bar Association. "It was amazing how receptive they were and wanting to talk about Hawaii and our issues here."
He said Kennedy "was very personable and very knowledgeable about the history here. Our bar is honored he would take time to meet with us."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.