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D.C. Circuit to Review 5th Circuit Judge Jones' Misconduct

Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit was the subject of a judicial misconduct complaint before the D.C. Circuit this past Wednesday, stemming from alleged racially biased statements made by Jones during a speech in February.

Chief Justice Roberts reassigned the complaint from the Fifth Circuit to the D.C. Circuit’s judicial council, which will decide if the complaint warrants investigation, reports The Associated Press.

As the D.C. Circuit prepares to evaluate complaints of Jones’ misconduct, it seems certain that she will have a long way to go before this is over.

Allegations of Racial Bias

Central to the claims of judicial misconduct are allegations that Judge Jones gave a speech to the University of Pennsylvania's law school, in which she stated that blacks and Latinos are "predisposed to crime," reports The New York Times.

As if there were any ethical room for her to breathe after that, Jones also allegedly claimed that things like prosecutorial racism and even mental retardation were "red herrings" when used as death penalty defenses, reports the AP.

Although the complaint was made by a civil rights organization, the real threat of Jones' bias against death row petitioners has already resulted in her being removed from a case.

Role of Judicial Council

Now that the D.C. Circuit's judicial council has a hold of Jones' case, they can evaluate the complaint to see if it merits investigating. The council is empowered under 28 U.S.C. §§ 332 (d)(1) to make the appropriate orders for "the effective and expeditious administration of justice," and that includes acting like Internal Affairs, even for sister circuits.

If a council is convened to investigate the case, Chief Judge Merrick Garland will choose any equal number of judges from all districts and circuits to join him in the investigation.

Possible Impeachment

There are many possible outcomes if the judicial council finds that the complaint has merit:

  • Disciplinary action. Similar to ethical misconduct for lawyers, Jones could potentially only receive a public reprimand (read: slap on the wrist)
  • Referral to Judicial Conference of the United States. An annual meeting of federal Chief Judges from all circuits, lead by the Chief Justice which reviews judicial misconduct recommendations, especially for impeachment.
  • Impeachment. If the Judicial Conference recommends to Congress that Jones should be impeached, then Congress may begin proceedings for impeachment.

As you may have gathered, there is a fair amount of due process ground to cover if and when Judge Jones has to answer to Congress, and it is possible, however unlikely, that her complaint will be dismissed for lack of merit.

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