It wasn’t something I was hiding.”
When state judges act injudiciously, state judicial discipline is available. The state remedies include the state publicly reprimanding the judge, or suspending him or her without pay for a period, and even removing him or her from the bench. In addition, in many states, the people vote for their judges, so that periodic elections can remove embarrassments.
No so for federal judges. Their lifetime tenure and salary protection make them immune from effective discipline, although Congress can impeach for serious offenses—a rarely used remedy, unless the federal government convicts the judge of a felony. Even then, the judge remains a judge and collects his salary, while serving time in prison, until the House impeaches, and the Senate removes the federal judge.
The framers of our Constitution gave federal judges lifetime tenure and salary protection to to make judges independent, not to authorize them to act with gay abandon. Some judges do not understand that, when they ascend to the bench, they are supposed to leave their politics behind.
Let us consider District Judge Richard Kopf of the District of Nebraska. He wrote a blog he calls, Hercules and the Umpire. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014), the Supreme Court held that a regulation of Health and Human Services could not force Hobby Lobby to pay for abortifacients to give to its employees. Congress could pay for the abortifacients if it chose to do so.
There would be no constitutional problem with that. Indeed, Congress could distribute free abortifacients on vending machines each street corner, but Congress (actually, in this case, the Secretary of HHS) could not force one private party to pay for another’s abortion. That violated a federal statute directly on point. The decision protected the religious liberties of the employer.
Judge Kopf published his analysis of this decision in is blog. It was pithy: “As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.” Where he prints “stfu,” he added a hyperlink to the Urban Dictionary, helpfully explaining to the reader what “stfu” means. All in all, for that one posting, one sees the term “stfu” 64 times. Kopf says that the majority decided as they did because they are Catholics. Kopf, by the way, compares his own legal analysis to that of the late Professor Alexander Bickel of Yale, whose writing is more eloquent.
Judge Kopf’s blog gave him 15 minutes of fame in the popular press, with an article in the Huffington Post and a few other places about his language. Not content with just 15 minutes, he later decided to attack Senator Cruz. On July 6, 2015, Judge Kopf told us, “Senator Ted Cruz is not fit to be President.” I hold no brief for Senator Cruz; I do wonder, however, why federal judges (who are supposed to leave their politics behind when they assume the bench) would signify their disapproval, rebuke, or endorsement of any presidential candidate.
If Judge Kopf wondered whether it was ethically proper to give his official seal of approval or disapproval to a presidential candidate, he was not cast adrift with no navigational aids. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts publishes is Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. The very first sentence provides, “Federal judges must abide by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, a set of ethical principles and guidelines adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States.”
The title of Canon 5 provides, in bold letters no less, “A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity.” Canon 5A(2) states and a judge should not “make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.” [Emphasis added] That sentence is not difficult to understand. The Administrative Conference also provides ethics opinions to explain further what is not permitted. The Committee on Codes of Conduct Advisory Opinion No. 19 (June 2009) explains that Canon 5A(2) is so strict that the judge should resign membership in a political club advocating and maintaining the principles of any political party even though the judge does not actively participate in the club.
In case one wonders what about Senator Cruz so irked Judge Kopf to proclaim his public opposition to Cruz’s candidacy, Kopf—who concedes that he should not be handing out such pronouncements—tells us in no uncertain terms:
As a federal judge, I am duty bound not to play politics. However, when a politician makes an extreme proposal [emphasis added] to amend the Constitution and fundamentally alter and harm the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court, I have the right as a federal judge, and dare I say the duty, to respond to the proposal. Senator, and Presidential candidate, Ted Cruz has recently stated,
Because Cruz “is serious” about this “extreme proposal,” Cruz “is demonstrably unfit to become President.” Judge Kopf actually claims that he “did not label Senator Cruz unfit to serve in order to oppose his candidacy”; Kopf could have fooled me. I thought that if you say that Cruz is not fit to become President that means that you oppose his election to that office. No, says Judge Kopf, who claims he made his statement “rather to demolish [sic] and protect us all from his intemperate legal attacks on the Supreme Court.” (Continue Reading)I am proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would subject the justices of the Supreme Court to periodic judicial-retention elections. Every justice, beginning with the second national election after his or her appointment, will answer to the American people and the states in a retention election every eight years. Those justices deemed unfit for retention by both a majority of the American people as a whole and by majorities of the electorates in at least half of the 50 states will be removed from office and disqualified from future service on the Court.
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Judges Who Broadcast Their Imprudent and Injudicious Behavior