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 New Orleans. 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.
In a lone dissent in one case Doe v. Taylor Independent School District, Judge Jones wrote that a 15-year-old student who had been repeatedly molested by her high school teacher for over a year should not be permitted to sue school district officials because, even though those officials had been repeatedly informed of the teacher’s sexual harassment, whether a student has the constitutional right to be free of sexual harassment is “still vague.” According to Jones, there is “no broad constitutional purpose to be served by recognizing for [a victim’s] benefit a constitutional right not to have her bodily integrity compromised by a teacher’s sexual abuse.”
In another case, Jones suggested that sexual harassment is fine as long as the victim isn’t raped. In Waltman v. International Paper Co., Susan Waltman complained that she was groped and grabbed, propositioned, ordered to have sex with a co-worker by her supervisor, had pornography and tampons hung from her locker, and was dangled 30 feet over a stairwell by a co-worker who threatened to “cut off her breast and shove it down her throat.” The majority of the court ruled that the woman should be allowed to proceed with her sexual harassment claim. Jones, however, dissented. After hearing the behavior to which Waltman had been subjected by her supervisor and co-workers, Jones blithely stated, “They didn’t rape her, did they?” When an attorney brought up the fact that one of the victim’s co-workers had pinched the victim’s breast, Jones said, “Well, he apologized.”
Those familiar with the reproductive rights struggle in Texas are likely aware that Jones wrote the majority opinion in Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion v. Lakey, the Texas forced ultrasound case, which overruled the lower court’s decision that the sonogram law (HB 15) violates the First Amendment. According to Jones and her colleagues, requiring women who are seeking abortions to undergo a medically unnecessary and intrusive transvaginal ultrasound in the name of so-called informed consent is “reasonable” and “empowering.” Apparently, if women are not forced to undergo a procedure that amounts to forcible rape by the state, they will suffer dangerous psychological consequences once they realize what it is they have done. (Because, according to Jones, women aren’t smart enough to understand what it is that they are doing when they decide to terminate a pregnancy.)
Those familiar with Jones’ majority opinion in McCorvey v. Hill were likely unsurprised by her opinion in the Texas sonogram case. In McCorvey, Jones rejected the request by Norma McCorvey (the “Roe” plaintiff in Roe v. Wade) to reopen the landmark case, but penned a special concurring opinion in which she expressed her hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will reevaluate Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey based on decidedly anti-science research about women’s mental and physical health following abortion—the sort of research that has wormed its way into state legislatures throughout the country, thus requiring doctors to lie to women and tell them that if they get an abortion they could get breast cancer or kill themselves.
Edith Jones is one of the most pernicious, racist, and anti-woman judges on the bench. Aside from the blatantly racist comments alleged in the Judicial Misconduct Complaint, she is well known for penning blistering dissents that promote anti-factual, sexist, misogynistic views about women and women’s rights. Fortunately, it seems as if her sordid history of abhorrent behavior is beginning to catch up with her.
One can only hope that the outcome of this judicial misconduct investigation will be impeachment.
Correction, June 13, 3:50 p.m.: A version of this article incorrectly stated that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Texas. It is located in New Orleans. We regret the error.