The Fifth Circuit is probably the most conservative federal appeals court in the country. It recently sanctioned a cheerleader and alleged rape victim because she sued the school district that required her to cheer for her alleged rapist. Its judges frequently attend “junkets for judges” hosted by an oil-industry funded group. And the court has developed such a reputation as a safe haven for the oil industry that the House GOP recently tried to shift many important oil drilling lawsuits into this court.
Few people capture the essence of the Fifth Circuit better than its chief judge, Edith Jones. During a recent court hearing considering a criminal defendant’s drug conviction, Jones became incensed because she believed one of her few left-of-center colleagues was asking too many questions, and she angrily cut him off:
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: Judge Dennis!
JUDGE DENNIS: Can I, can I, can I ask a question?
CHIEF 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….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES slams her hand down on the table (loudly), stands halfway up out of her chair, and points toward the door.CHIEF JUDGE JONES: Would you like to leave?
JUDGE DENNIS: Pardon? What did you say?
CHIEF 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….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: … you should give some other judge a chance to ask a question …
The fact that Jones cut off one of her progressive colleagues is a minor issue, but arises against a background of mean-spirited and ideological decisions. Jones once wrote a dissenting opinion claiming that a female worker who “was repeatedly propositioned, was groped and grabbed, [had] pornography  placed in her locker, and [had] other employees broadcast obscene comments about her over the company’s public address system” did not experience sexual harassment. At oral argument, she even suggested the woman would need to be raped to claim such harassment.
In other dissent, Jones wrote that a 15-year-old student who was molested by her high school teacher for over a year could not sue the school district because 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.”
Jones ranks fourth in the nation among judges who have attended corporate junkets, and she once joined a dissent claiming that a death row defendant whose lawyer slept through much of his trial was not denied his constitutional right to counsel.