Judges Behaving Badly

A guest post by Lawrence Friedman

Attention turned this spring to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas following revelations of both the close relationship his wife, Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, enjoyed with operatives involved in perpetuating the lie that Donald Trump won the last presidential election; and her express alignment with interest groups appearing before the Court. For his part, Justice Thomas has given no indication that he has or will recuse himself in cases in which his wife played some part.

But Justice Thomas is not the only jurist involved of late in questionable decisions regarding the limits of the judicial role. Back in 2018, as discussed here, Massachusetts state district court judge Shelley Joseph allegedly interfered with the enforcement of federal immigration law. The government maintains that, after presiding over the arraignment of an undocumented immigrant for whom Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a detainer and warrant for removal, Judge Joseph helped the individual to avoid the ICE official waiting for him to exit the courthouse. The government charged her with conspiring to obstruct justice and obstructing a federal proceeding. In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected her request for interlocutory relief while her prosecution continues in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

More recently, there is the story of New York Court of Appeals Judge Jenny Rivera, under investigation by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct for refusing to adhere to the court system’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. As the New York Times reported in March, Judge Rivera “has participated remotely in the court’s activities since the fall, when the state court system’s vaccination mandate took effect and unvaccinated employees were barred from court facilities.” The other six justices of the state’s highest court have continued to confer and hold oral arguments in person. It seems clear that Judge Rivera did not claim she was exempt from the mandate on either religious or medical grounds. Continue reading “Judges Behaving Badly”