Shame on Edith Jones

Oh, Edith. Did you really say these things? Do you believe them? If so, what justifies your sitting on the federal bench, deciding issues of great importance to Americans of all colors and ethnicities?

Edith Jones, the 64-year-old jurist, sits on the prestigious United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Her name gets dropped from time to time as Supreme Court material, although, truth be known, she’s now a little long in the tooth for a promotion to the high court.

Here’s a taste of what Edith had to say at gathering of the Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School earlier this year:

o Blacks and Hispanics are more prone than others to commit crimes of violence;

o The death penalty is a service to the condemned, allowing them to make peace with God;

o Defenses offered in death penalty cases, such as mental retardation or mental illness, are often mere red herrings;

o Mexican defendants prefer death row in the United States to general incarceration in a Mexican prison.

Of course, Edith’s remarks weren’t recorded, so she can deny having uttered them. But a complaint alleging judicial misconduct filed against her is accompanied by affidavits of folks who claim personal knowledge. The Federalist Society, her proud sponsors, of course kept no notes.

When asked for a comment by The New York Times, Edith was suddenly the sole of discretion; the Times reported no one returned a call to her chambers.

Federal judges are given lifetime appointments to keep them above and beyond the fray of partisan politics. Their judicial oath requires them not just to avoid misconduct that might call into question their impartiality as judges, but also to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Litigants standing in the well of the court are supposed to have confidence that the words etched above the door of the United States Supreme Court, "Equal Justice Under Law," are more than a mirage.

What confidence will a man or woman of color have when their case is put before Edith Jones?

It doesn’t matter that she sits on an appellate court, where, more often than not, she is one of three voices rendering a decision. And it matters not that criminal defendants rarely get to see the inside of an appellate court. (Once a defendant is convicted and whisked off to prison, they lose their right to attend subsequent judicial proceedings. That’s why convicted men and women are almost never seen in nation’s appellate courts, unless, of course, they elect to argue their own case.)

Will Edith be more inclined to wink at a claim that there was error in a case involving a black man sentenced to death? It certainly looks that way. After all, African-Americans are more inclined to commit crimes of violence that others, right? And even if the verdict was wrong, any time you can force a man into the bosom of the Almighty for some confessional face time it’s all good, right? Isn’t that what it comes down to Edith?

The chief judge of the Fifth Circuit, Carl E. Stewart, will now decide whether to investigate the complaint. Sadly, most complaints against judges are resolved in private. Even if this complaint is sent to other judges for review, there may never be a public hearing in which we get to hear, in open court, what Edith really thinks.

Odd how this revelation about Edith’s attitude comes shortly after the death of Jean Stapleton, known to most of us as the ever-patient wife of Archie Bunker, a sitcom racist of another era. Edith Bunker was harmless; she played straight-woman to Archie’s bigotry.

Edith Jones, by contrast, is a one-woman show of her own. If she cared about judicial integrity, she’d step down without a hearing. But odds are she won’t. She’s happy right where she is.


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