The Problem With Calling Out Judges for Their Race
In a June 5 article in the Atlantic by Garrett Epps, who teaches constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore, the author commented on the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s criticism of Judge Curiel because of his race by citing the 1998 case of Macdraw Inc. v. CIT Equipment Financing. That case is notable for the fact that the Hon. Denny Chin, then the only Article III United States District Judge east of the Mississippi, presided over it.
In response to an unfavorable decision against the plaintiff, plaintiff’s counsel filed a brief in which they questioned Judge Chin’s impartiality on account of his race. Responding to this point, Judge Chin wrote: “This sentiment is absurd and demeans me individually and the Court as a whole.” He then sanctioned plaintiff’s attorneys by requiring them to withdraw from the case and banning them from appearing before him in any future matter. He also directed the court clerk to report this sanction to every court in which plaintiff’s attorneys held bar membership.
On appeal to the Second Circuit, Judge Chin’s ruling was upheld in strong terms. Chief Judge Ralph Winter wrote: “Courts have repeatedly held that matters such as race or ethnicity are improper bases for challenging a judge’s impartiality.”
The article goes on to cite the case of the Vietnamese Fishermen against the Ku Klux Klan, without realizing that this latest AABANY Trial Reenactment was led by Judge Chin. In that case, the Ku Klux Klan sought to disqualify Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the first African American appointed to the Federal bench in Texas, on the grounds that she would not be impartial in a case in which the Ku Klux Klan was the defendant. Judge McDonald denied the motion from the bench, stating: “You are not entitled to a judge of your choice. You are entitled to a judge who will give you a fair trial. I am deeply committed to equal justice under the law and you will get it. You are entitled to nothing more and nothing less.”
In the three decades since the Vietnamese Fishermen case, we are still confronting race-based attacks against judges, which is indeed a sad state of affairs. We thank Judge Chin for standing up against this type of racism back in 1998 and for his continuing to teach all of us that these kinds of attacks against judges and the judiciary are improper, inappropriate and intolerable.
To read the full article, click the link in the title.
To learn more about the Vietnamese Fishermen trial reenactment, click here. For more information about the AABANY Trial Reenactments click here.