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Justice Kennedy defends judges' conference on Maui

By Star-Advertiser staff & Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 5:56 p.m. HST, Aug 14, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy answered critics who said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Conference being held on Maui should be scaled back or canceled because of costs.

Kennedy said the conference was a “prudent and proper exercise of the judicial function.”

Judges and others need to keep learning as part of their oath to protect Americans, he said. 

“When we enter each stage of our profession, that’s not when learning ends, that’s when learning begins,” he said.

Kennedy echoed an argument circuit court officials previously made that Hawaii is just as worthy of hosting the conference as other destinations within its jurisdiction.

"It's important that this conference meet frequently in Hawaii," Kennedy said. "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."

Circuit court officials said Maui was picked for its competitive room rates and cheaper flight costs because of the number of airlines serving Hawaii. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski told lawmakers criticizing the conference that at $230 per night, the Maui hotel compares favorably with similarly sized hotels in other destinations.

In a speech before several hundred judges, lawyers and other court officials at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Conference, Kennedy also said the Senate confirmation for new federal judges is too political and is keeping out highly qualified candidates who don’t want to go through the difficult process.

Kennedy told judges that the Constitution requires Senate confirmation, but the process today is too partisan. He says it makes the judiciary look politicized when it is not. 

"This is bad for the legal system," Kennedy said. "It makes the judiciary look politicized when it is not, and it has to stop."

The Ninth Circuit has held a conference annually since 1944, although it recently rescheduled its 2013 gathering to 2014 in Monterey, Calif.

The opening session on Monday also included recognition of Japa­nese-American soldiers who fought the enemy during World War II, according to David Madden, assistant circuit executive.

Maui native Eichi Oki, an Army veteran who served in Italy and France as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, will lead the conference in the Pledge of Allegiance. Oki is the father of the U.S. District Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway of Hono­lulu.

The conference on Maui came under criticism from Republican U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions of Ala­bama and Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking members of the Budget and Judiciary committees, respectively, who argued it’s a misuse of government funds.

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