Judge Alex Kozinski: From Communist Romania to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

One of our most controversial jurists talks about free speech, cell phones, and how bubble gum made him a capitalist.

“Those of you who’ve had the good fortune to be born in the United States simply have not known the absence of freedoms,” says Judge Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “You can only imagine, but not experience, what it’s like to live in a society where these freedoms are absent.”

Born in 1950 to Holocaust survivors, Kozinski grew up as a committed communist in Bucharest, Romania. On his first trip outside of the Iron Curtain, in Vienna, Austria, he experienced forbidden luxuries like bubble gum and bananas. It was his first taste of freedom, and it caused him to become, in his words, “an instant capitalist.”

Today, Kozinski is responsible for some of the most influential - and controversial - legal decisions in the United States. Kozinski's rulings have challenged the Obama administration over the issue of same-sex marriage. In a case that tested the limits of parody and artistic expression, he has weighed in on whether a Barbie doll qualifies as a sex object. In one of the most influential dissents in recent memory, he caused federal prosecutors to drop all charges against a defendant who'd been convicted of smuggling of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border. 

Kozinski sat down with Reason editor-in-chief Matt Welch during Reason Weekend in Las Vegas for a wide-ranging discussion about freedom and the law. How do mobile phones and cloud computing affect our right to privacy? Why do judges interpret the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution so broadly? What’s wrong with the practice of jury nullification?

Kozinski, a self-described libertarian, answers these questions, and many others, with the insight and wry humor that comes from decades of experience on the bench - and a childhood under communism.

About 50 minutes.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Alex Manning.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Virginian||

    I have a theory that the left fears this guy being tapped for SCOTUS so much that they tried to preemptively destroy him with a bullshit scandal a few years back. The following is from his dissent in Silveira v. Lockyer

    “My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for re-election and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
  • Larry M. Scruggs||

    my buddy's sister-in-law makes $76 an hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for 5 months but last month her income was $20743 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb1pdvvoVoQ

  • Almanian!||


  • sloopyinca||

    We should have one person in every US Circuit that personally lived under the thumb of a tyrannical regime. That would put a lot of the asshole judges that like to restrict liberties in their place.

  • Hyperion||

    Don't be silly. Those tyrannical regimes just didn't have the right people in charge. We'll get it right this time.

  • Jordan||

    Obama's working on that.

  • sloopyinca||

    I'm sure he is, but I wanted people that were oppressed by the regimes, not their water-carriers.

  • RBS||

    Several years ago I dated a SoCal liberal who's parents were way up high in the Dem/Progressive gliteratti. Alex Kozinski was pretty much the spawn of satan to them.

  • RBS||

    I also used to leave copies of reason all over their house when I went out there to visit.

  • sloopyinca||

    Did you shake your head in amazement that they couldn't even agree on Reason's civil liberties positions? That's been my experience when I dated proggies and did the same thing. Motherfuckers are all about Team and couldn't give a fuck about principle.

  • RBS||

    Pretty much. School choice was another thing we argued about. We both went to private schools. Guess which one of us thought everyone else should go to public school.

  • ||

    Unfortunately I get to meet people all the time who grew up under a bleak and oppressive communist regime who still think socialism is the answer.

  • sloopyinca||

    Do they still use the word "comrade"? Just curious if that stuck or if they reverted back to another familiar term.

  • ||

    All the time. I believe it was a very common Slavic word, and that the associations with communism were in its English (and probably other languages) usage.

  • ||

    Most of the Russians in my extended family make an explicit point of never using the word, mostly because their politics would pretty much fall into the Goldwater Republican category, so you can imagine their hostility to communism.

    The few that are leftists I ignore.

  • Duke||

    “Those of you who’ve had the good fortune to be born in the United States simply have not known the absence of freedoms,” says Judge Alex Kozinski.

    Uh, I beg to differ. Sure, The US is more free than many countries but have you lived here for at least 25 years? if so, you are much less free than you were 25 years ago.

Click here to follow Reason on Instagram


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties