How many racist emails does it take to brand someone a racist? My personal rule is “one.” If you send one horribly racist email that actually manages to leak out into public discourse, it’s probably not your only one. Seeing a racist email from someone is like seeing a mouse in your apartment: there’s never just one. I believe in temporary insanity, but I don’t believe in sudden onset racism that magically appears once and only once and then disappears forever.
Of course, whenever anybody gets caught in a racist email scandal, they always say that it’s the only one. It’s always “Whoops, that email was racist, but I’m not racist.” The racist email is always allegedly “out of character,” and the person always claims to have shown “poor judgment.” And that person always has some apologists, as if sending one or two racist emails is just something that “happens” in the normal course of business to non-racist people.
That’s what Judge Richard Cebull claimed. In 2012, he was busted sending around a racist email about President Obama. He claimed that he didn’t mean to be “racist” — he just meant to voice his displeasure with the president (as if it wasn’t bad enough for the judge to be taking public opinions about the sitting president).
Surprise, Richard Cebull sent a ton of racist, sexist, and otherwise inappropriate emails….
The Judicial Council of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit conducted an investigation into Cebull’s behavior in 2013. When Cebull retired in May of that year, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski decided to withhold the report, noting only that the committee found “similarly inappropriate” emails attributed to Cebull.
I tend to think secrecy helps nobody. Just how racist was this guy who was ruling over people in Montana?
Turns out, pretty damn racist. The U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct ordered the Ninth Circuit report to be made public. And it’s pretty damning. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
In its now-public report, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council said a subsequent search of court computer tapes dating from 2008 found hundreds of disparaging e-mails sent by Cebull to “personal and professional contacts and court staff.”
Many messages were political and expressed “disdain and disapproval for liberal political leaders” or commented on legislation on topics like gun control and civil rights, the report said. It said a significant number included jokes or commentary disparaging African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos – especially illegal immigrants – and women, and a few were antigay.
The report did not quote any of the offending e-mails.
Hundreds! Cebull initially defended his racist email as being “simply” anti-Obama, but it seems he was sending a lot of awful things that have nothing to do with the president. Somebody must have seen these other Cebull emails. If you have them, please send them along to us via email. (We’ll keep your identity as our source confidential.)
The review found “no evidence of judicial bias,” a statement that I do not believe for a second. Racism does not have an on/off switch. You don’t fundamentally believe that blacks or immigrants or women are inferior to you, and then have that not come out in your professional life. Especially when your professional life involves judging people. If the Ninth Circuit didn’t find evidence of judicial bias, then I think that the Ninth Circuit wasn’t looking hard enough.
Of course, the Ninth Circuit had no reason to really look hard enough. Cebull was a federal judge for 15 years. Did the Ninth Circuit really want to call into question 15 years of federal opinions? They’d be dealing with Cebull-based appeals for the rest of their lives. It’s much cleaner for the court to say, “The man’s retired, let’s move on.”
And really, there are probably tons of people who are just as racist as Richard Cebull floating around the federal judiciary. Nobody actually wants to wrestle with all of the instances of judicial bias in our system. It’s better to encourage judges to not be racist than to look back at all the racist federal judges who have come before.
Just remember Richard Cebull the next time somebody waxes poetic about the importance of stare decisis. Some of our “well settled law” was settled by racist-ass people operating with unaccountable impunity. Excuse me if I don’t think those people deserve a lot of deference.
Judge Richard Cebull sent hundreds of racist e-mails, panel says [San Francisco Chronicle]