Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is facing serious allegations this week after controversial remarks the jurist made at Federalist Society in February. According to the conservative group, there is no transcript of recording of Jones’ speech, but affidavits from attendees point to deeply problematic language from anyone, least of all a sitting federal judge.
According to the [ethics] complaint, Judge Jones, 64, who was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, and who until recently was the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit and mentioned during Republican administrations as a possible Supreme Court nominee, said that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.”
One of the affidavits accompanying the complaint is from Marc Bookman, a veteran death penalty lawyer in Pennsylvania, who attended the lecture. He quoted Judge Jones as saying, “Sadly, some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than others.” When asked to elaborate, Judge 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,” the affidavit said.
A variety of civil rights organizations and legal ethicists this week filed a complaint of misconduct. An affidavit from James McCormack, the former chief disciplinary counsel for the Texas bar, added that he believes Jones “violated the ethical standards applicable to federal judges under the Code of Conduct for United States judges.”
Making matters slightly worse, this wasn’t the only offensive comment Jones made at the event.
Judge Jones is alleged to have said that the defenses often offered in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, were “red herrings.” She also said, according to the witnesses, that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico.
It would appear that defendants have reason to question whether Jones is a fair and impartial arbiter of justice. Indeed, if I were a criminal defense attorney, and my client’s conviction rested in part on a ruling from Jones, I’d probably have new grounds for an appeal.
The matter will reportedly be reviewed by the 5th circuit’s chief judge. It’s a controversy worth watching.
Postscript: When Jones was on a very short list of jurists then-President George W. Bush was considering for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, the Washington Post published this brief profile, noting, “Known as a strong and outspoken conservative, she has written opinions that called into question the reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, has been an advocate for speeding up death penalty executions, and is a vocal proponent of ‘moral values.’ She also wrote a 1997 opinion throwing out a federal ban on the possession of machine guns and has been an advocate for toughening bankruptcy laws.”