Racism complaint filed against federal judge by civil rights group

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A long-time federal judge in Houston known for outspokenness has been called out by a Texas civil rights group for making allegedly racist statements, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The Texas Civil Rights Project’s formal complaint to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals comes on the heels of a blog post at Above The Law last week, which reported on a 5th Circuit decision criticizing several comments Judge Lynn Hughes made in a discrimination case brought by Jitendra “JT” Shah against his former employer, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Shah, an engineer, is of Indian descent.

During a November hearing in the matter, Judge Hughes joked about diversity efforts in educational institutions: “And what does a diversity director do, go around and (paint) students different colors so they think they were mixed?”

Hughes insisted in court that Shah actually is Caucasian, saying, “That’s where we came from. That’s why Adolf Hitler used the swastika.” The Chronicle pointed out that Hughes apparently confused the Caucasian racial classification with Aryan, which refers to original speakers of early Indo-European languages.

The recusal motion (PDF), filed in Shah’s case by Conroe, Texas, lawyer Jo Miller, says that Judge Hughes’ comments were “consistent with a demonstrated pattern and practice of bias and prejudice against alleged victims of discrimination.”

The Chronicle story includes examples of prior statements by Judge Hughes that drew criticism. In an earlier discrimination case brought by an African-American school employee, the 5th Circuit criticized the judge for dismissing comments by a supervisor that if Barack Obama were elected president, the Statue of Liberty’s torch would be replaced by a piece of fried chicken.

Hughes had said in court that “no black individually and no blacks collectively owns (sic) the sensitivity rights to fried chicken or anything else” and that suggesting use of the term is a racial slur is “really surprising to Colonel Sanders.”

The 5th Circuit wrote that Judge Hughes’ comment “misses the mark, as it overlooks the racial component.”  

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