WASHINGTON — A council of federal judges in Washington will look into a misconduct complaint against a conservative judge who is alleged to have made racially discriminatory comments.
Judge Edith Jones of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allegedly said at a speech in February that certain “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime,” and are “prone to commit acts of violence” and be involved in more violent and “heinous” crimes than people of other ethnicities.
On Wednesday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts assigned the complaint to the District of Columbia Circuit after the 5th Circuit asked that it be transferred. The coalition of civil rights organizations that filed the complaint had requested that it be transferred out of the 5th Circuit.
The case was sent to the judicial council of the D.C. Circuit. If the chief judge in Washington, Merrick Garland, decides an investigation is warranted, he will appoint a special committee with an equal number of appeals court and district court judges, plus himself, to look into the complaint. The committee can hire outside counsel as part of its investigation. Jones can also hire a lawyer.
The committee would then make recommendations to the council, which can take several actions, ranging from a public reprimand to referring the case to the national Judicial Conference of the United States, if the council believes the conduct is grounds for impeachment.
Under such a referral, the conference would decide whether to recommend impeachment to Congress.
In New Orleans, Jones’s alleged comments were condemned by elected officials — including U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and state Rep. Jared Brossett — who both said a probe was warranted.
On Thursday, the local branch of the NAACP held a news conference on the steps of the 5th Circuit, similarly asking for a “full, open investigation.”
Brossett said Thursday that he is glad something is being done about Jones’ “totally ridiculous” remarks.
Richmond, too, applauded the move. “As I wrote last week in my letter to Chief Judge Stewart, if the statements alleged in the complaint are true, then I have serious doubts about Judge Jones’ ability to serve as an impartial jurist,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to closely monitoring developments related to this important investigation.”
At issue are statements Jones made in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania law school on Feb. 20.
Her comments were not recorded, but five students and one attorney who were there signed affidavits about what was said.
According to the complaint, Jones said that when courtroom defendants claim innocence or allege police or prosecutorial racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and violations of international law, those are just “red herrings” used by death penalty opponents.
She also said defendants’ claims of mental retardation in death-penalty cases disgust her, the complaint alleged.
The complaint alleges that Jones said, “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.”
Two years ago, Jones was in a 2-1 majority that determined that a defendant was not mentally impaired and was therefore eligible for execution. On Wednesday night, the defendant, Elroy Chester, was executed in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal from his attorney, who argued that Jones subsequently displayed bias against Chester when she discussed his case during the February speech.
Jones, a native of Philadelphia, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, and was the appeals court’s chief judge for seven years until October 2012. Prior to her appointment, she was a lawyer in private practice in Houston.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.