Chief Justice John Roberts is apparently not amused by the alleged racist antics of Judge Edith Jones, who sits on the extraordinarily conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Texas. Roberts has ordered the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit to review a Complaint of Judicial Misconduct filed by several civil rights organizations related to disparaging comments Jones allegedly made about ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.
It is rare that a judicial misconduct complaint of this nature is made public. According to Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle, this is one of only a handful of times that a federal circuit judge has been the subject of a public judicial misconduct complaint. Usually such matters are secret under federal law.
Given the jaw-dropping comments alleged in the complaint, however, coupled with the recent public outcry surrounding those comments, it’s no surprise that this matter will be aired publicly rather than behind closed doors.
According to the complaint, Jones delivered a lecture entitled “Federal Death Penalty Review” at the University of Pennsylvania on February 20, where she allegedly made a host of racist and ableist comments. Jones claimed that certain “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime” and are “prone to commit acts of violence” and be involved in more violent and “heinous” crimes than people of other ethnicities. She also allegedly said that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States than serving prison terms in their native country.
In addition, Jones expressed her affinity for the death penalty and her disgust at death penalty opponents, allegedly stating that capital-defendants’ claims of racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and violations of international law and treaties are “red herrings” wielded by death penalty opponents. She also allegedly accused defendants who raise claims of “mental retardation” of abusing the system. According to Jones, the very fact that purportedly “mentally retarded” defendants were convicted of a capital crime is sufficient to prove that they are not “mentally retarded.”
Jones is also alleged to have claimed that the death penalty provides a public service to death row inmates because defendants “make peace with God” only in the moment before imminent execution.
The complaint also references an infamous incident during which Jones loudly slammed her hand on the bench during her colleague Judge James L. Dennis’ questioning of counsel during oral argument, disrespectfully asked Judge Dennis if he “wanted to leave” the courtroom during the argument, and told Judge Dennis that she wanted him to “shut up.” (Audio of that incident can be found here.)
While shocking to some, those familiar with Edith Jones’ antics expect this sort of behavior from her. When she’s not ordering her colleagues on the bench to “shut up,” she is writing some of the most virulently anti-woman decisions of any federal court judge in the country.