Last year, Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals spoke to a conservative legal group and made a series of controversial remarks about race. There is no official transcript or recording, but affidavits from attendees pointed to deeply problematic language, especially from a sitting federal judge.
According to an ethics complaint, Jones, a Reagan appointee, told the audience that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.” A veteran attorney who was in the room said Jones “noted there was no arguing that ‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ far outnumber ‘Anglos’ on death row and repeated that ‘sadly’ people from these racial groups do get involved in more violent crime.” She was also accused of having said defenses often used in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, are “red herrings.”
An investigation ensued, but the Associated Press reported yesterday that a panel of judges dismissed the misconduct complaint.
“It appears likely that Judge Jones did suggest that, statistically, African-Americans and/or Hispanics are ‘disproportionately’ involved in certain crimes and ‘disproportionately’ present in federal prisons,” said the panel.“But we must consider Judge Jones’ comments in the context of her express clarifications during the question-and-answer period that she did not mean that certain groups are ‘prone to commit’ such crimes,” the panel of judges said.“In that context, whether or not her statistical statements are accurate, or accurate only with caveats, they do not by themselves indicate racial bias or an inability to be impartial,” said the panel. “They resemble other albeit substantially more qualified, statements prominent in contemporary debate regarding the fairness of the justice system.”
One wonders if Americans from minority communities, whose legal fate rests in Jones’ hands, would have comparable confidence in the conservative judge’s impartiality.
My colleague Kate Osborn noted yesterday that one of the lawyers who filed the original complaint wasn’t impressed with the investigation, and is pushing the process forward. From a press statement:
The D.C. Circuit judges who dismissed the initial complaint this August repeatedly relied on Judge Jones’ own version of the facts about her Penn Law speech – in spite of conflicting sworn testimony from six people – five of whom were law students – who attended the lecture. The judges allowed Judge Jones to testify but did not allow those who filed the complaint or attended the lecture to do the same. The judges also received documents and other secret evidence that they and Judge Jones refused to disclose to complainants.“Just as concerning as these instances of bias, the one-sidedness and secrecy surrounding the ethics complaint process and the untoward deference to the judge’s denials makes it unlikely that any claims of judicial misbehavior can be handled in a way that gives the public confidence that justice is being served,” said Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, another party to the appeal.
An appeal has been filed with the Judicial Conference of the United States, requesting its Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability revisit the complaint.