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Jesse Lava

Jesse is a campaign director at Brave New Foundation, where he runs Beyond Bars (http://beyondbars.org), which produces videos and graphics to curb mass incarceration.

June 6th, 2013 7:16 PM

Judge Accused of Racism Has History of Saying Awful Stuff

Should Judge Edith Jones Be on the Bench?

If you were to make a list of things that a sitting judge should not believe, I suspect one item would be that some racial groups are inherently inclined to be guilty. Yet federal judge Edith Jones of Texas seems to have revealed precisely that belief. Attendees of a recent speech of hers claimed she said "racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime" and "prone to commit acts of violence." They also say she contended that death sentences are a favor to the accused because they force criminals to "make peace with God." This is quite a judge. I admit I'm impressed that in a single speech she appeared to display intellectual bankruptcy on both judicial impartiality and the role of religion in adjudication.

Equally impressive is that Judge Jones has been down this road before. As a judge of the Fifth Circuit Court, she has a history of comments and behaviors that are, to put it mildly, ill-advised. Take her nasty confrontation with a fellow judge during an oral argument in 2011. The other judge, James Dennis, attempted to ask a question, and she interrupted him with the following:

JUDGE JONES: Judge Dennis!
JUDGE DENNIS: Can I, can I, can I ask a question?
JUDGE JONES:You have monopolized, uh, uh, seven minutes....
JUDGE DENNIS: Well, I'm way behind on asking questions in this court. I have been quiet a lot of times, and I am involved in this case....
JUDGE JONES slams her hand down on the table (loudly), stands halfway up out of her chair, and points toward the door.
JUDGE JONES: Would you like to leave?
JUDGE DENNIS: Pardon? What did you say?
JUDGE JONES: I want you to shut up long enough for me to suggest that perhaps....
JUDGE DENNIS: Don't tell me to shut up....
JUDGE JONES:... you should give some other judge a chance to ask a question ...
JUDGE DENNIS: Listen, I have been in this courtroom many times and gotten closed out and not able to ask a question. I don't think I'm being overbearing....
JUDGE JONES: You've been asking questions for the entire seven minutes....
JUDGE DENNIS: Well, I happen to be through. I have no more questions.

Telling another judge to "shut up" is not what's normally meant by "judicial temperament."

Judge Jones's legal opinions are no less disturbing. For instance:

-- A woman faced harassment at work in the form of groping, grabbing, porn being put in her locker, and co-workers making obscene remarks about her over the company loudspeakers. In oral argument, Judge Jones asked the woman's lawyer, "They didn't rape her, did they?" The lawyer responded that someone had pinched her breast. Judge Jones replied, "Well, he apologized." Jones voted (unsuccessfully) to prohibit the woman from proceeding with a sexual harassment claim.

-- Judge Jones said a 15 year-old student who had been the victim of ongoing molestation by a teacher should not be allowed to sue school officials, even though the officials had been told over and over what was going on. Jones was on the losing end of that case, too. She wrote in her dissent that recognizing students' right not to be sexually abused by teachers would have "no broad constitutional purpose."

-- A man was sentenced to death after his lawyer slept through most of his trial. Judge Jones joined an opinion denying the accused man's attempt to get a new trial. This time, she won.

Is it really appropriate for a judge like this to be on the bench at all, let alone on a federal appeals court? George W. Bush had actually put her on the short list for U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. I go cold thinking of the damage that Judge Jones could have done from that perch. We can only hope that her latest apparent exercise in judicial unrestraint has disqualified her from any further promotions.

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