Court Rejects Left-Wing Claims Against Conservative Federal Judge

AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
Washington, D.C.

A federal judge formally accused of racism by the NAACP and other left-wing groups has been completely exonerated after a yearlong investigation conducted by the Judicial Council of the Washington D.C. Circuit.

Notre Dame law professor Gerald Bradley sees the false and even trumped-up charges as part of an orchestrated campaign to harm the reputation of a conservative Christian jurist who has been on the short list for the Supreme Court.

Federal Judge Edith Jones gave a death penalty lecture to the Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania in early 2013, during which Jones answered three broad questions; is the death penalty constitutional? Is it working? And, is it “morally justifiable?” According to a report drafted for the court by Special Counsel Jeffrey Bellin of William and Mary Law School, Jones said the death penalty was both constitutional and morally justifiable but that it’s application was “costly and flawed.”

Present at the lecture was anti-death penalty advocate Marc Bookman, Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. According to the report of the Special Counsel, after the lecture, Bookman orchestrated a campaign to file formal charges of misconduct against Jones with the D.C. Circuit Judicial Council.

A number of petitioners joined the fight including the League of United Latin American Citizens, chapters of the National Bar Association, Texas Civil Rights Project, and La Union del Pueblo del Entero. Eight affidavits were submitted, one from Bookman, six from students who attended the lecture, and two other attorneys who said Jones violated “Federal and Texas canons of judicial conduct.”

Specifically petitioners complained that Jones said in her lecture that African-Americans and Hispanics were prone to violent and even “heinous” crimes. They accused her of denigrating the Mexican judicial and expressing “disgust” at the defense of “mental retardation” to avoid the death penalty. Petitioners also charged her with using her “personal religious views” to justify capital punishment.

For a year, Special Counsel Bellin investigated the charges, including interviewing 45 people and reviewing voluminous documents including the notes Jones used for the lecture, which was not written down or recorded.

Bellin’s report shows most of the complaints against Jones came from a single source, an unidentified “Assistant Federal Defender” who took notes during the lecture and sent them to Bookman. According to Bellin’s report, “About a month after the talk, she became aware that people were asking around for witnesses to provide affidavits. It appears that Bookman took the document, made slight changes and adopted the resulting document as his affidavit.”

Bookman concedes this is exactly what he did. The resulting affidavits from the students also incorporated “the Bookman affidavit.”

Former Jones law clerk Tamara Tabo said, “The case suffers from a proof deficit, at the very least. The lecture was not recorded. The complaint offers six affidavits supporting the claim that Judge Jones made the improper remarks at issue. None of the affiants made their statements immediately after the lecture. All of them relied on details provided by someone else.”

She goes on to say, “The attorney who provided the notes to Bookman in the first place wouldn’t testify against Judge Jones and thought that later sensational allegations of racism were unfair.”

In her defense, Jones denied ever saying or even implying that certain minorities are prone to violence or “heinous crimes” but rather that African-Americans and Hispanics are statistically overrepresented in prisons and on death row.

The Special Counsel determined that preferring the U.S. judicial system to that of Mexico was hardly actionable, and that there was no evidence that she expressed “disgust” at the mental retardation defense. He also said it is not unusual, let alone actionable, that someone’s religion would come into a discussion of the morality of the death penalty.

In August, Special Counsel Bellin concluded there was no preponderance of evidence for any of the charges made by the NAACP against Jones. The Judicial Council of the D.C. Circuit agreed and dismissed the complaint, whereupon Bookman and the NAACP appealed to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee that finally dismissed the complaint in mid-February.

Notre Dame Law Professor Gerald Bradley described the decision as a “total rout” of Bookman and his allies. Writing at National Review’s blog, Bradley said, “The Committee on Judicial Conduct… concluded that none of the charges was supported by even a ‘preponderance’ of the proof, which is the lowest of evidentiary standards. This is tantamount to a total vindication of Judge Jones.”

Bradley also says, though the charges against her received national coverage, her total exoneration will never appear in the New York Times because the accusation fits too perfectly the left-wing narrative that a Reagan-appointed conservative Christian, often on the short list for the Supreme Court, simply must be a racist.