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Judges Behaving Badly with No Real Consequences

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Judges are supposed to interpret and enforce existing laws regardless of personal or political predilections. They're also supposed to be fair and professional. Unfortunately, the legal industry's caste system largely insulates judges from meaningful scrutiny. Most regulators and practitioners don't dare make accusations of judicial misconduct for fear of reprisals (except in milquetoast appellate briefs rarely seen by the public). But misbehaving judges pose a fundamental threat to our democratic institutions. Here are some examples.

  • Clarence Thomas. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas received millions in undisclosed gifts over decades from a top Republican donor (who just happens to collect Hitler memorabilia). Seizing control of the country's highest tribunal has long been a Republican political priority. But even hardcore conservatives like Antonin Scalia evinced a genuine respect for an independent judiciary. Thomas is a political hack. He refused to recuse himself from a case directly tied to the 2020 presidential race despite his wife Ginni's ardent promotion of Trump's 'Big Lie'. In fact, he was the lone dissenter in a ruling that went against the former president. Thomas also authored the opinion imposing an inconceivably moronic standard for Second Amendment cases that was probably drafted in an NRA conference room. Remember in the 1980s when Robert Bork was considered too extreme to be confirmed to the Supreme Court? Things have changed.
  • Mark Kascmaryk. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kascmaryk revoked the FDA's decades-old approval of the abortion medication Mifepristone in an obvious case of substituting personal religious beliefs for well-established laws and science. Kascmaryk, a Texas-based Trump appointee with no expertise in pharmacology or medicine (or, apparently, law) has a long history of Christian conversative activism. Kascmaryk's agenda-driven opinion was littered with anti-abortion verbiage, ignored decades of medical research, and imposed his personal brand of evangelism on everyone. You can be ardently pro-life and still be appalled that one judge's personal religious convictions can completely upend women's health care options. Anybody with a law degree - or, for that matter, who paid the slightest bit of attention in middle school social studies - knows better.
  • Naita Semaj. Lest you think we're picking on conservatives, Bronx-based New York Supreme Court Judge Naita Semaj was recently transferred from a criminal to a civil docket due to her shenanigans. An ardent advocate for the accused (a role typically reserved for defense counsel), she's berated police, prosecutors, and even victim's relatives in open court. She threw one assistant district attorney out of her courtroom - forever - for having the temerity to respectfully speak up. Another all-too-common example of a judge with an overblown sense of self-importance (and brittle self-confidence) throwing the entire legal system into disrepute while pursuing a personal political agenda.
  • The North Carolina Supreme Court. After North Carolina's Republican controlled legislature drew a Congressional redistricting map they proudly touted as gerrymandered, the Democract-majority state supreme court tossed it and told the representatives to try again. But the GOP took control of the court after the 2022 elections, and the justices decided in an extraordinarily rare move to rehear the case. Guess what? The previously unconstitutional election map turned out to be fine. The political ramifications could be profound, swinging multiple Congressional seats and solidifying Republican chances of holding the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024. Consider that the next time a state bar president starts prattling about the "sacred trust" that lawyers and judges have with the public.
  • These Guys. Alabama judge Les Hayes locked up hundreds of people for being too poor to pay their traffic tickets (including one woman for 496 days; her children wound up in foster care). He was suspended for 11 months before returning to the bench. Judge Hayes defended himself - and we're not making this up - by claiming he didn't know he was doing anything wrong. California Judge Scott Steiner was publicly censured for having sex with multiple women in his chambers. Utah Judge John Dow was censured for texting a video of a man's scrotum to his court clerks. Three Indiana judges got into a drunken altercation and received brief (i.e., 30-day and 60-day) suspensions. And, best (or worst) of all, Texas Judge Jack Robinson burst into a jury room during deliberations and advised the jurors that none other than God Himself said the defendant was innocent (much to the chargin of prosecutors as no deities had been listed as defense witnesses). Robinson was barely disciplined and remained on the bench (perhaps the Almighty appeared at the disciplinary hearing and testified on the judge's behalf? The Lord does move in mysterious ways.)