Top judge 'concerned' about state court
Justice Kennedy says Hawaii's high court should find time to hear oral arguments
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy told more than 100 attorneys and judges yesterday that he is "concerned" about Hawaii's highest court, saying it is overburdened.
"Legislators are sometimes jealous of courts. One way to prevent a court from being effective is to give it too many cases," Kennedy said after addressing Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon in the audience with, "Chief Justice Moon, I'm concerned about your court."
Kennedy also told the group, moments later, that "we have to think about function. It's very important to preserve oral arguments."
The Hawaii Supreme Court has been criticized in recent years for rarely allowing oral arguments. None are currently on its docket. The court has countered that its decisions on cases would be further slowed if more oral arguments were heard.
After Kennedy's talk, Moon told the crowd in the Queen's Medical Center conference room that a law passed in 2002 and set to go into effect this year will change the structure of Hawaii's court system and give high court justices lighter caseloads and more time for oral arguments.
"All of the justices on the Supreme Court are of the same mind," Moon said, speaking at a University of Hawaii-sponsored panel discussion with Kennedy and Judge Myron Bright, senior judge with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The problem has been during the course of the years, we've had to balance timely dispositions versus oral arguments."
Under Act 202 the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals will get more cases while the Hawaii Supreme Court will take fewer -- accepting only select cases based on writ of certiorari, or arguments from an appellant's lawyer on why a decision should be reversed.
Several bills, which were based on a task force's recommendation, are moving through the state Legislature this session to would help implement the law.
Kennedy and Bright are at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law this year for the Jurists-in-Residence program. They have been meeting with high school and law school students, along with attorneys and law professors.
At the Queen's Medical Center yesterday, Kennedy and Byron talked about America's court system and important components to "good lawyering" and "good judging." They both said robust, hearty oral arguments were vital to ensuring the courts remained fair.
In a question-and-answer session at the end of the talk, Kennedy was asked whether the Supreme Court's two new justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito -- would change the "dynamic" of the court.
"Of course it will change, and I take that to be a good thing," Kennedy said. "In one way the court is much more stable than you might think from reading the media. On the other hand, it's a human institution, and ... it will be affected by new judges."