Civil rights organizations filed a complaint against 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones this week for remarks they say she made at a February speech to the Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School about racial bias in death row sentencing.
The groups say the comments are prejudiced and call into question Jones' ability to be an impartial and fair judge.
Jones' law office in Houston said the judge declines to comment on the case.
According to several people present who signed affidavits for the complaint, Jones said:
“adly some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than others.” When asked to explain her remarks, she stated that there was “no arguing” that “Blacks and Hispanics” outnumber “Anglos” on death row and “sadly” it was a “statistical fact” that people “from these racial groups get involved in more violent crime.” By way of example, she asserted as a “fact” that “a lot of Hispanic people [are] involved in drug trafficking,” which itself “involved a lot of violent crime.”
The judge said "certain racial groups" are "prone" to violence, according to the complaint. Jones, a Reagan appointee, also defended the use of the death penalty because “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,” according to the complaint.
No transcript or recording exists of the speech, according to the Federalist Society.
The 5th Circuit's chief judge, Carl E. Stewart, will decide whether to dismiss or pursue the complaint, according to The New York Times.
The law school's Federalist Society says Jones' remarks are being misconstrued. "Rest assured the Federalist Society does not host or harbor racist speakers," Penn's Federalist Society posted in a brief statement on its Facebook page. "We're disappointed that constructive dialogue about federal habeas relief is being misrepresented like this." (Federal habeas relief refers to the appeals process for prisoners.) The group did not return a request for further comment.
The issue of racial bias in sentencing made headlines in Texas in 2000 when Texas' then-Attorney General John Cornyn identified five cases in which he thought the race of a defendant was used improperly in testimony. Jones joined her colleagues on the 5th Circuit in rejecting the stay execution request of one of these prisoners, Duane Buck, in 2011. Buck argued that his sentence should be thrown out since an expert witness psychologist, Walter Quijano, suggested during his trail that Buck's race could make him more likely to commit another crime in the future.
Jones, who was believed to be on President George H.W. Bush's short list for the Supreme Court, has been an outspoken critic of the Supreme Court and judges who do not adhere to a constructionist view of the law.
In 2001, she told University of Texas law students that people who suspect they are fired because of racial bias or their gender should "take a better second job instead of bringing suit" because they were almost always wrong about the cause of their firing.
Jones also criticized the Supreme Court for allowing pornography and for decriminalizing the use of profanity in public places in a 2005 interview with The American Enterprise.