A Texas federal judge, once touted as a top Supreme Court nominee by the George W. Bush administration, is the subject of several ethical complaints and now up for formal review after she allegedly made discriminatory remarks about racial minorities during a politically-charged speech in February.
In a speech given at the University of Pennsylvania's Law School, Judge Edith Jones asserted that racial groups like African- Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime." Assigned to the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court, Jones also later added that she views the death penalty as a public service allowing inmates to "make peace with God."
In a formal complaint, several Civil Rights groups charged Jones' words as a gross violation of the code of conduct required of federal judges. Although her comments were not recorded, at least five students and a lawyer in attendance have signed affidavits attesting to what she stated.
The Austin Chronicle also reports Jones rationalized that the two aforementioned minority groups are "prone to commit acts of violence," and more likely than people of other ethnic groups to be involved in "heinous" acts.
As for those who believe the death penalty is discriminatory, she retorted those are simply "red herrings" used by those who oppose it. Jones also assailed those who in any way would use mental retardation as a form of defense, asserting that it "disgusts her" before later adding "Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States than serving prison terms in other countries."
In a 12-page complaint, a coalition including the Texas Civil Rights Project, Austin chapter of the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program all maintain Jones engaged in conduct "that undermines public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and creates a strong appearance of impropriety."
In an affidavit accompanying the formal complaint, noted ethicist James McCormack wrote: "Most federal judges strive mightily to act fairly, impartially, and to strengthen, rather than erode public confidence in our system of justice. Judge Jones' conduct militates in the opposite direction. In my opinion, unless an appropriate disciplinary authority strongly disapproves of her statements our judicial system will suffer the confidence."
Jones' alleged comments dismissing the whole notion of race playing a role in death penalty sentencing comes at a time when one such case is now pending before her and allegations that these racially charged statements have tainted the case are already ripe. A related compliant filed in connection with the case further alleges that Jones herself has made comments on several death penalty cases yet pending before the court — in blatant violation of legal ethics rules.
Civil rights groups, including the African-American bar association J.L. Turner Legal Association, insists Jones' comments reveal a strong ethnic bias. They are hoping that an investigation could actually lead to her removal from the bench. Group president, Mandy Price maintains some attendees at the UPenn law school speech are still shocked by what they witnessed.
"The reaction in the room when she made these remarks was one of shock, surprise, and offense," she said.
With the firestorm showing no signs of dissipating, Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts, took the rare step of ordering a review of Jones conduct and actions, with the audit to commence immediately.