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Federal appeals judge is accused of racial bias for alleged comments on criminal propensities

Posted Jun 5, 2013 8:33 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Judge Edith Jones of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is back in the news because of a Federalist Society speech in which she allegedly said certain racial groups are predisposed to crime, and the death penalty helps inmates make peace with God.

A coalition of civil-rights groups, law professors and legal ethics experts filed a misconduct complaint on Tuesday that accuses Jones of racial bias, report the New York Times, the Austin Chronicle and My San Antonio.

Jones’ Feb. 20 speech at the University of Pennsylvania law school was not recorded and there is apparently no transcript, the Times says. Affidavits by attendees summarized her alleged remarks.

The complaint (PDF) claims Jones said that certain racial groups such as African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime and prone to commit acts of violence. When asked to explain remarks, the complaint alleges, "she stated that there was 'no arguing' that ' blacks and Hispanics' outnumber 'Anglos' on death row and 'sadly' it was a 'statistical fact' that people 'from these racial groups get involved in more violent crime.' ”

Jones is also accused of calling claims of systemic racism, actual innocence and mental retardation “red herrings.” She allegedly said that “just as many innocent people [were] killed in drone strikes as innocent people executed for crimes” and said it is a disservice to the mentally retarded to exempt them from death sentences.

Jones is also accused of saying that the death penalty had Biblical origins and it is beneficial to capital defendants. According to the complaint, "She stated that 'a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face God’s judgment.' ”

The complaint also claims that Jones discussed pending cases and that, during a question and answer portion of the program, Jones lost her composure to such an extent that the host of the program abruptly ended the session.

The complaint also targets Jones for a well-publicized confrontation with a colleague during oral arguments in September 2011 in which she accused Judge James Dennis of monopolizing the questioning and told him to “shut up.”

Among the groups and people signing the complaint are the Austin Chapter of the NAACP; the Houston affiliate of the National Bar Association; Cornell law professor emeritus Charles Wolfram; and Mark Harrison, former chair of the ABA Commission to Revise the Code of Judicial Conduct.

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