Of the deluge of sexual-harassment stories gushing forth in recent weeks, one of the most disturbing — one of the creepiest, really — has also been one of the least noted: the allegations involving federal appeals court judge Alex Kozinski.
There are, certainly, more egregious fact patterns. But of the powerful and prominent men who have been accused of preying on powerless women, Kozinski occupies an especially troubling role: There are few jobs whose occupants are more insulated from scrutiny than that of federal judge.
The insulation is appropriate; indeed, it is constitutionally mandated. Yet as we have seen in case after case, Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to John Conyers Jr., it may be precisely that untrammeled power, the sense of invulnerability from consequences, that enables such abuse. When you’re a star — or a judge — they let you do it.
A week ago, The Post reported allegations that included Kozinski calling a clerk into his chambers to show her pornography and ask whether it aroused her; suggesting to a clerk for another 9th Circuit judge that she should work out naked; and making other court staffers uncomfortable with sexual innuendo or outright ogling. Friday evening, the allegations crossed the line into unwanted physical contact, with additional women coming forward, including four — a law student, a lawyer, a law professor and a former judge — who described Kozinski touching them without consent.
Bad enough, because Kozinski holds a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, where his duties include hearing appeals involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. Bad enough, because a judge and law clerk enjoy a relationship that is at once uniquely intimate and inherently unequal.
But it would be wrong to understand Kozinski as just one among 179 federal appeals court judges. He is among the most influential and celebrated, an icon among conservatives and — perhaps another explanation for why the reports about his behavior took so long to surface — a reliable “feeder judge” for those seeking Supreme Court clerkships.
Kozinski has always been known as a brilliant, transgressive provocateur. His willingness to push the boundaries not only of stodgy judicial writing (“The parties are advised to chill,” he concluded one opinion) but also of stodgy judicial behavior was part of his charm, or so it seemed. In 1996, Kozinski wrote for Slate about going — at the invitation of a law clerk, gender unstated — to an outre “lingerie party” that included a “bondage peep show.”