Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday took the rare step of ordering a review of a powerful federal judge accused of making denigrating statements against minorities and people with mental disabilities.
Roberts formally ordered the District of Columbia circuit court to review the complaints against Judge Edith Jones of Houston, who sits on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The complaint, filed by a group of civil rights organizations, legal ethics experts, and law professors, alleges that Jones made a number of inappropriate remarks at a Feb. 20 speech the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. Her remarks were not recorded at all, but according to Texas Civil Rights Project, she called certain racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics "predisposed to crime" and called defendants' claims of racism nothing more than "red herrings."
Jones also allegedly made a number of inappropriate remarks about capital punishment, such as that Mexican nationals would prefer to be on death row in the U.S. than in a Mexican prison and that the death sentence is beneficial for defendants because they are more likely to make peace with God before their execution. She also allegedly expressed skepticism about defendants who claim to be mentally retarded.
The complaint was filed with the Fifth Circuit Court, and the circuit's chief judge, Carl Stewart, had the discretion to order an investigation, dismiss it or take other steps. Most complaints against judges are dismissed. Stewart requested the transfer to another court.
Jones was nominated to the circuit court by President Reagan in 1985 and served as chief judge from 2006 to 2012. In 1990, the New York Times reported that Jones was one of the final candidates President George H.W. Bush considered nominating to the Supreme Court. She remains an influential judge in the federal court system and possibly influenced the Supreme Court's decision to take up the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a constitional scholar .
The complaint against Jones also alleges she inappropriately spoke about specific, pending cases, including the case of Elroy Chester, an African-American man whose intellectual-disability defense Judge Jones rejected. Attorneys for Chester last week filed motions for a stay of execution, the Houston Chronicle reports, based on the allegations of judicial misconduct. A judicial panel, however, allowed the execution to proceed, and Chester was executed on Wednesday.