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An Evening With Judge Kozinski: At the CEI Annual Dinner

Alex Kozinski and David Lat at CEI Dinner

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Cir.) and your above-signed writer, at the 2010 Annual Dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Last Thursday, June 17, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C. In case you’re not familiar with it, CEI is “a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government” — i.e., a libertarian think tank.

At this year’s dinner, the honoree was a legal luminary with libertarian leanings: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Given my adoration of Judge Kozinski, the proximity of Washington to New York, and the fact that I was already going to be in D.C. — for a dinner of the Society of Professional Journalists (Kash and I wrote a magazine story that was nominated for an award) — how could I not attend?

A write-up of the proceedings and a slideshow, after the jump.

As one would expect from a libertarian group, CEI always puts on a good party. This was my second time attending CEI’s annual dinner; I previously attended their 2006 fête , which I covered for the political blog Wonkette.

Not surprisingly given CEI’s prominence, the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency was crawling with notable figures from the right side of the aisle. At the reception before the dinner, I bumped into Gene Meyer, longtime president of the Federalist Society. At dinner, I was seated with Professor Jonathan Alder, of Case Western and the Volokh Conspiracy; his fabulous wife, Christina Adler (also a lawyer turned blogger); Walter Olson, of the Cato Institute and Overlawyered; and Gene Healy, also of Cato, and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.

The theme of this year’s event was “A Night at the Opera.” So it was fitting that the keynote address at dinner was delivered by a larger-than-life personality: Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit (surely the most operatic circuit court in the country, with no shortage of judicial divas).

Kozinski began his remarks by confessing that he’s had only a few antitrust cases over the course of his 25 years on the bench. But as he noted in a quip we previously highlighted as a Quote of the Day, “Ignorance has never stopped a federal judge from expressing an opinion.”

The focus of his speech was United States v. Syufy Enterprises, 903 F.2d 659 (9th Cir. 1990), in which the Ninth Circuit rejected the Department of Justice’s claim that Syufy Enterprises had monopolized or attempted to monopolize the movie exhibition business in Las Vegas. The case is perhaps best known for Judge Kozinski’s impressive feat of weaving some 200 movie titles into the text of his opinion.

Judge Kozinski devoted most of his remarks to poking fun at the Justice Department’s theory of the case in Syufy. The DOJ’s position in Syufy was laughable — and, thanks to Judge Kozinski’s hilarious presentation, many laughs were had. As noted by the American Spectator, Kozinski brought down the house with his speech. Who knew that antitrust law could be so entertaining?

But Kozinski had some serious points to make as well. He suggested that antitrust law has become overly dominated by high economic theory, as opposed to a real-world understanding of business activity. He argued that exercising (or attempting to exercise) monopoly power in the new economy is extremely difficult, like “holding on to a greased pig.” Information flows so quickly, and innovation happens so rapidly; antitrust law needs to reflect these realities. On the whole, Kozinski took the position that vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws must be tempered with common sense.

Kozinski closed his remarks with… a musical number! He sang a song about price fixing, to the tune of “Strangers in the Night.” As the Spectator observed, His Honor has an excellent singing voice.

The evening concluded with an after party, featuring an open bar and copious desserts (because libertarians aren’t afraid to indulge). The room was packed to the gills with libertarian or libertarian-leading luminaries, including but not limited to the following (in no particular order):

One of the after-party’s most fun features: a “green screen” that you could be photographed in front of, with a scenic background of your choice to be added in later. Chief Judge Kozinski particularly enjoyed hamming it up in front of the green screen — as you can see in the slideshow below.

Click on each thumbnail for a closer look. Enjoy!

Kozinski Brings Down the House At CEI Gala [American Spectator]
Inside the Beltway [Washington Times]
Tweets collected under #CEIGala [Twitter]
Wonkette Party Crash: CEI Awards [Wonkette]

Earlier: Quote of the Day: And the same goes for state judges, too….

(hidden for your protection)

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