Monday, August 13, 2007

Is The Judge Catholic?

Catholic Legal Theory blog Mirror of Justice points us to a disturbing case in Florida, where a judge is being asked to recuse himself due to his "deep religious beliefs." The evidence has a lot to do with his links to the Ave Maria Law School, a Catholic University to which he has donated money to and hired law clerks from.

I recall reading that Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., the first Black judge ever to sit on the federal bench for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was once asked to recuse himself from hearing a racial discrimination case because he was Black, and thus, presumably, could not be unbiased. He responded:
I concede that I am black. I do not apologize for that obvious fact. I take rational pride in my heritage, just as most other ethnics take pride in theirs. However, that one is black does not mean ... that he is anti-white.... As do most blacks, I believe that the corridors of history in this country have been lined with countless instances of racial injustice....

Thus a threshold question which might be inferred from defendants' petition is: Since blacks (like most other thoughtful Americans) are aware of the 'sordid chapter in American history' of racial injustice, shouldn't black judges be disqualified per se from adjudicating cases involving claims of racial discrimination? [Commonwealth v. Local Union 542, International Union of Operating Engineers, 388 F.Supp. 155 (E.D. Pa. 1974)]

He then refused the motion, and heard the case.

The judge in this instance should do the same. Obviously, it is conceivable that a judge's "deeply held beliefs" could render him incapable of handing down an impartial, objective decision in a legal case (insofar as there is such thing). But simply noting one's affiliation with a variety of Catholic institutions is wildly insufficient to establish this, and fantastically offensive to boot. This sort of religious hostility cuts to the bone of what prejudice means, and I hope that the judge draws from the experience of Judge Higginbotham to reject it firmly.

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