Friday, March 2, 2012

Vacant Judges And Bad Judgment

Even though vacancies in the federal judiciary are at crisis levels, Judge Cebull's resignation would be welcome.

I've recently written (again) about the vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary due to the obstructionist tactics of Senate Republicans.  So has Marge Baker of People for the American Way, who says that "Senate Republicans have decided to use judicial nominees as pawns in their political games, delaying votes on even uncontroversial nominees for months on end."

As a result, there are 84 vacancies on the federal courts -- almost double the rate of vacancies by this point in George W. Bush's first term.  Baker explains that this means "roughly one in 10 seats on the federal courts today is vacant," which "doesn't just mean greater workloads for sitting judges. It means greater delays for Americans seeking their day in court."

Still, there is one more vacancy I would like to see.  Richard F. Cebull was appointed by George W. Bush to the district court bench in Montana in 2001.  (In contrast to the fate of Obama's nominees, Cebull was nominated in May 2001, and quickly confirmed in July by a vote of  93-0-7.)

Judge Cebull admitted to forwarding a disgusting, racist email about Obama's conception which compared an inter-racial sex act  to a white woman having sex with a dog.

Free speech is one thing, but for a federal judge to endorse and forward such a disturbing email calls into serious question his ethics, his judgment and his suitability for the bench.

At Cebull's request, the Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opened a misconduct review which will likely result in a public admonishment.  But that would hardly be sufficient. 

ThinkProgress reports that the chairs of the Congressional Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American Caucuses each released statements condemning Cebull's  “blatantly racist” email, and CHC Chair Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) called for Cebull to resign.

It does appear that Cebull may have violated the U.S. Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides that a judge "should personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the Judiciary are preserved." It also says that a judge "should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities."  With regard to politics, it says judges "should refrain from partisan political activity" and "should not publicly endorse or oppose a partisan political organization or candidate."

Mark Follman at Mother Jones spoke with Jeffrey M. Shaman, a judicial-ethics expert at DePaul University College of Law, who agrees that Cebull crossed the line.  "Offensive, racist speech such as this clearly diminishes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and therefore should be considered a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct," according to Shaman.  "Judge Cebull ought to know better, and his circulation of such a disgusting message makes one wonder if he is competent to serve as a judge."

The National Bar Association is urgently calling for Cebull's resignation:
Judge Cebull's actions are inexcusable and should be reprimanded at the highest degree.  His actions challenge his commitment to honoring the conduct and doctrine of jurisprudence and call into question his ability to govern impartially under the law.  Furthermore, his sensitivity to issues and matters as it relates to race and his obligation to govern on the federal bench has been jeopardized.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez is right:  “It would appropriate for Chief Judge Cebull to ponder whether his continued service as a federal judge has been irreparably compromised and that another career may be more appropriate for someone with his views and temperament.”

Maybe he can seek the Republican nomination for President.


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