Judge Killed in Ariz. Shooting Spree Had Issued Several High-Profile Decisions

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The federal judge killed Saturday in an attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was involved in several controversial decisions, but he wasn’t targeted by the suspect ahead of time.

Judge John Roll, 63, had been chief judge for Arizona’s federal district court since 2006 and a federal judge since 1991, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) and the New York Times. He had stopped by Giffords’ meet-and-greet event at a Tucson Safeway to thank her for sending a letter intended to help declare a judicial emergency in his district because of the high number of immigration cases heard there, according to the Wall Street Journal. He was on his way home from Mass when he stopped by the store.

The suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, had apparently targeted Giffords, according to an affidavit filed in the federal case against the man. A police search of Loughner’s home turned up an envelope in the safe with the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords.” Twenty people were shot, and six died. Giffords is in critical condition.

Roll’s most controversial case may have been a 2009 decision allowing a civil rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against Arizona ranches who detained them a gunpoint. Roll received more than 200 calls in one afternoon after the ruling; he also received several death threats.

In 1994, Roll struck down background checks required for gun owners under the federal handgun control law known as the Brady Act, according to Above the Law. Roll ruled that requiring local officials to conduct the checks violated the Tenth Amendment. His ruling was overturned on appeal.

Friends described Roll as kind, cordial, even-handed and fair, according to the Wall Street Journal and the Times. Before joining the federal bench he was a state appellate judge and prosecutor. He was a deeply religious man and was devoted to his family, friends told the Wall Street Journal. He swam for an hour almost every morning and drove a burgundy-colored Corvette.

Richard Martinez, a lawyer who frequently appeared before Roll, told the Times that the judge was kind and fair. “His commitment to making the right decisions as he saw them, to the point of putting himself at risk, was a reflection of who he was and how he acted as a judge,” he said.

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