A judicial disciplinary committee has dismissed a judicial misconduct complaint filed last year against Judge Edith Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As a result, Judge Jones will continue to be able to decide cases in which she’s demonstrated bias – and a review of her record since the complaint was filed 16 months ago shows that such cases frequently come before Judge Jones.
At issue is a series of statements by Judge Jones about African Americans, Hispanics, the developmentally disabled, and
anyone convicted of a capital offense. Jones made the statements at a talk sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Law School chapter of the Federalist Society.
A coalition of civil rights groups and legal ethicists filed the complaint, supporting it with sworn affidavits from six people who attended the talk. Chief Justice John Roberts referred the complaint to the Judicial Council of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. AFJ submitted a letter in support of the complaint. The coalition is appealing the dismissal.
The council acknowledged that if the allegations against Judge Jones were true, she would be in violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. But the council found that those who filed the complaint failed to prove that she actually made the offending remarks.
In their appeal, the complainants raise several concerns about how this conclusion was reached, noting that:
- The evidence submitted by Jones in her own defense is secret.
- While Jones was allowed to testify before the council, those who filed the complaint and five of the six eyewitnesses were not. The complainants couldn’t even attend.
- The transcript from this hearing remains secret, as does a report prepared by the council’s Special Counsel who investigated the allegations. Such materials can be released with the defending judge’s permission, but Judge Jones has refused to provide authorization.
- A list of evidence presented in Jones’s defense indicates that the only direct refutation of the claims in the complaint is Jones’ own denial, and one statement from one person in attendance, solicited by the Federalist Society months after the fact.
In the 16 months since the complaint was filed, Jones has issued several decisions reflecting the biases revealed in her statements. Consider what Jones said, according to those six eyewitnesses in their sworn statements, and what she’s done in the past 16 months:
What Jones said: Certain racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime and “prone” to commit acts of violence.
What she did: Upheld a Texas law that has the effect of making it harder for poor people and people of color to register to vote. She also co-authored a dissent supporting a law that discriminates against undocumented immigrants. In her decision, she compared undocumented immigrants to child predators.
What Jones said: She asserted that capital defendants’ claims of racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and violations of international law and treaties are really nothing more than “red herrings” used by opponents of capital punishment. She also promoted a religious justification for the death penalty because “a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face imminent judgment.”
What she did: Wrote and joined multiple decisions denying appeals in death penalty cases, including one in which the defendant cited what he said was new evidence of innocence.
What Jones said: Claims of “mental retardation” (her words) by capital defendants are also red herrings, and the fact such persons were convicted of a capital crime is in itself sufficient to prove they are not in fact “mentally retarded.”
What she did: Revealed her contempt for the intellectually disabled in another context when she wrote a decision overturning a lower court and dismissing a complaint against a teacher’s aide. The aide was accused of assaulting a severely autistic, physically disabled seven-year-old boy.
AFJ’s letter cites other examples of biased statements by Judge Jones, including her claim that most employment discrimination suits [are] “petty interoffice disputes, recrimination, second-guessing and suspicion.” Given that statement, and her views on race, it’s hardly surprising that Jones was part of a three-judge panel that dismissed claims by African American Dallas police officers that they were discriminated against in hiring, training, discipline and assignments.
The letter also notes Jones’s view that a federal Equal Rights Amendment would be “…contrary to the fundamental distinction between men and women, and lead[s] to unforeseeable and unfortunate consequences.” [Emphasis added.] Jones also linked laws guaranteeing equal rights for women in the workplace to “the increase of out of wedlock births, the prevalence of divorce, the sexualization of society and the youth.”
So it was no surprise when Jones wrote the Fifth Circuit decision upholding Texas’s draconian anti-abortion law. In doing so, she dismissed the concerns of women in the Rio Grande Valley who may have to travel up to 150 miles to receive abortion services. As the Texas Observer described it, “It seemed beyond Justice Jones’ imagination that a Texas road trip might not be an adventure—or more than a minor inconvenience—for a woman with a full-time job, child care responsibilities or visa restrictions that confine her to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande Valley.” Enforcement of the Texas law has just been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Every litigant deserves a hearing before impartial decision makers. Unfortunately, the decisions reached by Judge Jones bear the taint of bias in light of her many statements on issues that frequently come before her on the bench. Given the consistency between Judge Jones’s statements and her subsequent decisions, it is hard to imagine how a capital defendant, an employment discrimination victim, or a civil rights plaintiff could expect a fair hearing before her.