Yesterday, a unanimous panel of the federal judiciary’s ethics committee ruled that the Sixth Circuit council’s decision was “clearly erroneous“:
[W]e easily conclude that Belle Meade invidiously discriminates against women and African Americans for purposes of Canon 2C and, consequently, that Judge Paine’s membership in the organization runs afoul of that Canon. Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the major cosmopolitan cities of the Southern United States. In particular, it boasts a 27% African American population. Its female population is just over 50%. Although few organizations perfectly mirror the population trends of their surrounding locales, a member of the public would reasonably expect to see at least some women and African Americans among Belle Meade’s Resident Membership barring (1) invidious discrimination or (2) something unique about the Club…that would suggest otherwise. There is, however, nothing about Belle Meade’s stated aims or activities that provides any such justification for the total absence of any female or African American Resident Members. The organization is a social club for prominent persons living in and around the Nashville area. Naturally, there is no shortage of women or – as Judge Paine proclaimed in his 1990 letter to the Club’s Board — African Americans fitting that description.
It’s worth noting that the Sixth Circuit council’s deeply erroneous opinion permitting judges to belong to this sort of club was authored by Sixth Circuit Chief Judge Alice Batchelder — a woman with her own unfortunate history of ethical lapses. Batchelder refused to recuse from a case where the Ohio Republican Party sought to prevent as many as 200,000 registered voters from having their votes counted, even though her husband — the current GOP speaker of the Ohio House — had an obvious interest in the case as a GOP candidate for re-election.
Batchelder also serves on the board of a notorious oil-industry funded “junkets for judges” organization that until very recently provided expense-paid trips to western resorts where the judges were instructed on how to decide cases by industry representatives, and she has repeatedly refused to resign from this board despite an opinion from the federal judiciary’s ethics committee saying that federal judges have an ethical duty not to serve on it.
As a final, unfortunate note about this story, it is worth noting that one of the five judges on the panel that disagreed with Batchelder in yesterday’s ethics opinion was Judge Edith Clement — who also sits on that same junkets for judges board as Batchelder. Although Clement reached the correct decision in yesterday’s opinion, it is tough to imagine a clearer example of a fox guarding the hen house that allowing a judge who unethically led a corporate junketing group to decide on judicial ethics issues.