Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit mixed past and present into his speech Wednesday (March 21) at the 34th annual Ninth Circuit Luncheon sponsored by the Northern District of California Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.
Speaking to an audience of several hundred lawyers and judges gathered at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, Judge Kozinski paid tribute to five Ninth Circuit judges who passed away in 2011. Senior Circuit Judges David R. Thompson of San Diego and Cynthia Holcomb Hall of Pasadena died in February, just weeks apart. Senior Circuit Judge Thomas G. Nelson of Boise, Idaho, died in May; Circuit Judge Pamela Ann Rymer of Pasadena in September; and Senior Circuit Judge Robert M. Boochever, the first Alaskan to sit on the court, in October, also in Pasadena.
"We not only miss the considerable work they contributed but we miss them, terribly," he said of his departed colleagues.
While noting that "such a cluster of deaths is unique in our court's history," Judge Kozinski said they were not all unexpected in light of the aging of the Ninth Circuit bench, which includes 19 senior judges with an average age of 80 and 25 active judges with an average age of 63.
"We are an old court and we know what has to happen with the passage of time," he said.
Later in his remarks, Judge Kozinski welcomed the court's newest judge, Morgan Christen of Anchorage, Alaska, who received her commission on January 11, 2012, and will soon begin hearing oral arguments. Formerly a justice on the Alaska Supreme Court, Judge Christen succeeds Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld of Fairbanks, Alaska, who took senior status in 2010.
Judge Kozinski also spoke optimistically about possible Senate action on three nominees - District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen and attorney Paul Watford, both of Los Angeles, and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz - currently awaiting confirmation to vacant seats on the nation's busiest appellate court.
"We received positive news this month that the Congressional stalemate on judicial nominees may be lifted for the next few months. It makes us hopeful for confirmation this year for the three latest nominees to our court," he said.