A federal judge who, until recently, led what is arguably the nation’s most conservative federal appeals court said blacks and Hispanics are more prone to commit crimes, according to a lawsuit filed this week. Although the remarks by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones were not recorded, five students and one attorney who attended a February event at the University of Pennsylvania law school signed affidavits attesting to what she said that day, the Associated Press reports.
Among her comments were that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime,” are “prone to commit acts of violence,” and more likely than people of other ethnicities to be involved in “heinous” acts. She also said the death penalty provides a public service by allowing an inmate to “make peace with God,” citing an article called “Hanging Concentrates the Mind,” according to the Austin Chronicle. She said claims that the death penalty is discriminatory, imposed arbitrarily, and violate international law are just “red herrings” used by those who oppose the death penalty; that claims of “mental retardation” disgust her; and that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States than serving prison terms in other countries.
Jones, a Reagan appointee who was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit until last October, is known for her hostile and discriminatory comments. She erupted at one of her fellow judges during oral argument in 2011, and told him to “shut up” while asking him to leave the courtroom. And she wrote a dissenting opinion claiming that a woman 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. Jones is also one of the most frequent attendees of junkets for judges, corporate-sponsored legal education getaways.
The lawsuit by several civil rights organizations alleges Jones’ comments amount to judicial misconduct, and is signed by nationally known legal ethicists. Ethicist James McCormack wrote in an affidavit accompanying the complaint:
I view this episode as a very sad and unfortunate chapter in the history of our federal judiciary. Most federal judges strive mightily to act fairly and impartially and to strengthen, rather than erode, public confidence in our system of justice. … Judge Jones’s conduct militates in the opposite direction. In my opinion, unless an appropriate disciplinary authority strongly disapproves of … Jones’s statements and properly addresses her flagrant misconduct, our judicial system — and our federal appellate courts in particular — will suffer the consequences of diminished public respect and confidence.
Jones’ alleged comments dismissing racism in the death penalty come while at least one death penalty case pending before her alleges that racially biased statements tainted the case. In fact, the complaint alleges that Jones made comments on several death penalty cases now pending before the court, in violation of legal ethics rules.