Complaint Accuses Federal Judge of Racial Bias


Ethics experts and civil rights organizations filed a complaint of misconduct against Judge Edith H. Jones, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Texas, alleging that her recent remarks during a speech at a law school showed racial bias against minority groups and a lack of impartiality in death penalty cases.

At a lecture entitled “Federal Death Penalty Review” at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law on February 20, 2013, the complaint asserts, Judge Jones said that African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime and “prone” to commit acts of violence and that imposing a death sentence is a service to defendants because it allows them to make peace with God.

She also complained that claims of racism and innocence are “red herrings” and that capital defendants who raise claims that they are intellectually disabled (and therefore cannot constitutionally be executed under United States Supreme Court precedent) abuse the system. According to the witnesses, the judge said that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico.

In an affidavit accompanying the complaint, James M. McCormack, former chief disciplinary counsel for the Texas bar, said that based on the complaint, “it is my opinion that Judge Jones violated the ethical standards applicable to federal judges under the Code of Conduct for United States judges.”

Legal ethics expert Charles W. Wolfram told the New York Times that Judge Jones’s alleged statements were a cause of great concern. “She seems to have made up her mind on these issues,” he said in a telephone interview. “She is slanted. That is the whole point of the impartiality requirement.”

Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, Carl E. Stewart of Louisiana, will decide whether to dismiss the complaint or order an investigation. The complainants ask Judge Stewart to transfer the matter to another circuit because Judge Jones is a former chief judge of the Fifth Circuit.