Wednesday, October 17, 2018
On the website Etsy, which sells crafts and vintage items, typing “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” into the search bar yields more than 1,000 results.
You can buy a birthday card with the associate justice’s image and the phrase “small and mighty” written in pink. There’s also a tank top bearing her stern visage and “I dissent” written underneath. There are posters of her as Rosie the Riveter, peg dolls of her in full judicial regalia and even prayer candles portraying her as “the Patron Saint of the Supreme Court.”
If Etsy isn’t your thing, you can find a Ginsburg action figure on Kickstarter, complete with gavel, pointing finger and her “iconic jabot,” a frilly, fancy-looking collar perfect for making “fashion and judicial statements.” The initial funding goal was $15,000. As of September, it had raised well over $600,000. “She is a rock star. She is an inspiration. She is constantly fighting. She is brilliant and fearless,” the introductory video to the Kickstarter page states. “She is an icon.”
The items aren’t all kitschy. There are plenty of posters, coffee mugs and shirts featuring inspirational and even strident quotes from her speeches and opinions. One oft-used line came from an interview she gave shortly after Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Another popular one for product designers is: “Fight for the things you care about.”
That latter quote was from a 2015 luncheon at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in Justice Ginsburg’s honor. Oftentimes, these products will leave off the last part of Ginsburg’s sentence, which was “but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” That outlook may explain why Ginsburg has become a cottage industry, generating countless products—none of which she has likely endorsed but has often been a good sport about.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a music album inspired by her life story. There are websites and memes that celebrate her jurisprudence, her fiery dissents and her dedication to civil rights, gender equality and social justice. There’s even a recent documentary and an upcoming Hollywood film chronicling her long and storied career as a litigator fighting on behalf of gender equality.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
New biography of Justice Ginsburg, out October 16, Jane Sharron de Hart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life
The first full life—private, public, legal, philosophical—of the 107th Supreme Court Justice, one of the most profound and profoundly transformative legal minds of our time; a book fifteen years in work, written with the cooperation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself and based on many interviews with the justice, her husband, her children, her friends, and her associates.
In this large, comprehensive, revelatory biography, Jane De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, her meticulous jurisprudence: her desire to make We the People more united and our union more perfect. At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs—her Jewish background. Tikkun olam, the Hebrew injunction to “repair the world,” with its profound meaning for a young girl who grew up during the Holocaust and World War II. We see the influence of her mother, Celia Amster Bader, whose intellect inspired her daughter’s feminism, insisting that Ruth become independent, as she witnessed her mother coping with terminal cervical cancer (Celia died the day before Ruth, at seventeen, graduated from high school).
From Ruth’s days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, to Cornell University, Harvard and Columbia Law Schools (first in her class), to being a law professor at Rutgers University (one of the few women in the field and fighting pay discrimination), hiding her second pregnancy so as not to risk losing her job; founding the Women's Rights Law Reporter, writing the brief for the first case that persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down a sex-discriminatory state law, then at Columbia (the law school’s first tenured female professor); becoming the director of the women’s rights project of the ACLU, persuading the Supreme Court in a series of decisions to ban laws that denied women full citizenship status with men.
Her years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, deciding cases the way she played golf, as she, left-handed, played with right-handed clubs—aiming left, swinging right, hitting down the middle. Her years on the Supreme Court . . .
A pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, on American society, on our American character and spirit, will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.
Jill Lepore, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Unlikely Path to the Supreme Court, New Yorker
God bless Ruth Bader Ginsburg, goats, bobbleheads, and all. But trivialization—R.B.G.’s workout tips! her favorite lace collars!—is not tribute. Female heroes are in short supply not because women aren’t brave but because female bravery is demeaned, no kind more than intellectual courage. Isn’t she cute? Ginsburg was and remains a scholar, an advocate, and a judge of formidable sophistication, complexity, and, not least, contradiction and limitation. It is no kindness to flatten her into a paper doll and sell her as partisan merch.
Doing so also obscures a certain irony. Ginsburg often waxes nostalgic about her confirmation hearings, as she did this September, when, regretting the partisan furor over Brett Kavanaugh—even before Christine Blasey Ford came forward—she said, “The way it was was right; the way it is is wrong.” The second of those statements is undeniably and painfully true, but the first flattens the past. What Biden was getting at, in 1993, was what the President himself had said, dismissing the idea of nominating Ginsburg when it was first suggested to him. “The women,” Clinton said, “are against her.” ***
And so when Clinton, eager to please, entertained names proposed by women’s groups, he learned that some of them refused to support Ginsburg, because they were worried that she might be willing to overturn Roe (which is not what she had written, but one gathers that the Madison Lecture was more often invoked than read). At one point, Clinton asked Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to suggest a woman. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Moynihan answered. “The women are against her” was the President’s reply. Moynihan called Martin Ginsburg and said, “You best take care of it.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
One of the world's top judges says female judges improve the quality of judicial decisions.
And she admits, in an exclusive New Zealand interview with the Herald, it may be viewed as a "controversial" comment.
I was one of only six [female] law school students," the 73-year-old said.
"At that stage the first woman High Court judge in England had only just been appointed."
However, she said courts still don't have enough women serving on the bench.
"This is the most controversial," she went on to say. "Do women make different decisions from men? To which the answer is, having women on the court improves the quality of decision making," she said.
"It improves the quality of debate, it makes certain things much more difficult to say and do, counters sub-conscious biases, we all have them ... and just from time to time, having a woman's voice on a decision makes a difference."
She explained a woman's life experience allowed for better decision-making.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
The UK's highest court is to have a female majority hear a case for the first time in 600 years.
Almost one hundred years after a law was passed allowing women to practice as barristers, three women and two men will decide a case in the highest court in the country.
Three of the five judges who are set to hear a Supreme Court case on October 3 about a 16-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome and learning difficulties are female.
Lady Hale, the court's first female president, has previously spoken out about the need for more women at the top of the judiciary. Earlier this year she said women were "seriously underrepresented" among senior judges, warning that women were forced to move into the public sector because of the difficulty of combining high-flying legal jobs with family and caring responsibilities.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
The documentary "RBG," co-produced by CNN, has made $13.5 million at the box office, according to comScore, and will be broadcast next month on the network. Oscar nominee Felicity Jones will play her in a feature film, "On the Basis of Sex," in December.The justice said recently that she hopes to stay on the Supreme Court at least five more years, when she'll be 90. She has survived two bouts with cancer, colorectal in 1999 and pancreatic in 2009.Ginsburg's celebrity might not have been predicted when President Bill Clinton chose her for the high court in summer 1993. Then a 60-year-old federal appellate judge, she was not Clinton's first choice. He was looking for a flashier appointee and initially tried to woo former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to the bench.Ginsburg, with her large-rimmed glasses, hair tied back in a short ponytail, presented the picture of seriousness. She spoke of taking "measured motions" as a jurist. Supporters portrayed her as a night owl who spent hours hunched over law books and legal briefs, tepid coffee and prunes at hand. Her daughter created a little book titled "Mommy Laughed," chronicling the few times it happened.Once on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was a sharp questioner and meticulous opinion-writer. She leaned in but without the attention-getting style of the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, or gregarious longtime pal Antonin Scalia.She was hardly a liberal in the mode of contemporary justices on the left: William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall or Harry Blackmun. But as the court changed over the years and became more conservative with each retirement, she found herself carrying the banner for the left.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Absolutely cannot wait for this. (Coming in December). So cool that the costumes (at least in the trailer) closely align with the archival photos.
Jones plays the iconic Supreme Court justice in the upcoming film based on RBG’s life, “On the Basis of Sex.” A new trailer for the film follows a young Ginsburg as she starts law school at Harvard, where she was only one of nine other female students in her class.
“Protests are important, but changing the culture means nothing if the law doesn’t change,” Ginsburg says to political activist and fellow lawyer Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates) in the trailer.
"On the Basis of Sex" Trailer: Can Felicity Jones Handle Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Accent?" [sic the NYT's headline snark]
A biopic of the Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could hardly seem timelier, given the current headlines about President Donald J. Trump’s new nominee for the high court, Brett Kavanaugh, as well as the surprise box-office success of the recent documentary “RBG.” But based on the first trailer for “On the Basis of Sex,” fictionalization may prove stranger than truth in this case.
For two years, Natalie Portman was slated to play Justice Ginsburg, but dropped out in 2017, only to be replaced by Felicity Jones. Ms. Jones was born in Birmingham, England, and initial impressions indicate she may not have nailed Ms. Ginsberg’s distinctive Brooklyn accent.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Watch the hearing here on CSPAN Senate Committee Examines Workplace Misconduct in the Federal Judiciary, June 13, 2018
Joan Biskupic, CNN, Senate Judiciary Committee Takes up #MeToo in the Courts
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony related to judicial misconduct on Wednesday, including from a Washington lawyer who says she collected numerous accounts of sexual harassment by judges, in the first public airing of US judges' #MeToo moment.
Live tweeting commentary on the hearing by Courtney Milan (pen name of former law prof and Kozinski judicial clerk Heidi Bond) @courtneymilan
For more on the Working Group Report from the committee which studied the issue:
Monday, June 11, 2018
The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, a group of federal judges and senior Judiciary officials formed at the request of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., issued a report recommending measures to improve workplace conduct policies and procedures in the federal Judiciary. The Working Group submitted its findings to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal Judiciary’s policy-making body. The report and an executive summary are available online.
The recommendations include clarifying workplace standards and communications about how employees can raise formal complaints, removing barriers to reporting complaints, providing additional and less formal avenues for employees to seek expert advice and assistance on workplace conduct issues, and utilizing enhanced training on these subjects for judges and employees.
Several recommendations of the Working Group have already been implemented or are underway, such as clarifying that confidentiality rules in the Judiciary do not prevent law clerks or employees from reporting misconduct by judges. Many of the report’s recommendations require further action by the Judicial Conference.
The report is here.
Commentary by Joan Biskupic, CNN, Judicial "Inappropriate Conduct" Broader than Isolated Incidents, Panel Finds
A special US judiciary working group set up last December after a prominent appeals court judge was accused of sexual harassment reported on Monday that "inappropriate conduct" in the nation's courthouses is "not limited to a few isolated instances."Yet the eight-member group -- which met with scores of former and current employees of the judiciary and invited comment nationwide -- did not detail the magnitude of employee abuse in the US judiciary beyond saying it was "not pervasive." The group also did not note whether, during its five months of study, any action was taken against individual judges or other court employees.The working group, which was established by Chief Justice John Roberts, made several recommendations in its report, including that:
- judges should put a greater priority on improving workplace culture
- the code of conduct should be revised to make clear what behavior is prohibited
- the complaint system should be made more transparent and accessible.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Michael P. Fix & Gbemende E. Johnson, Public Perceptions of Gender Bias in the Decisions of Female State Court Judges, 70 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 1845 (2017)
How are women on the bench, and their decisions, perceived by the public? Many scholars find that gender influences the voting behavior of judges and the assessment of judges by state judicial systems and the American Bar Association. However, few scholars have examined how judge gender affects the way in which the public responds to judicial outcomes. Does the public perceive the decisions of female state court judges as being “biased” by their gender identity, particularly in cases involving reproductive rights/family law? Also, does the public view female judges on state courts as more likely to rely on ideology when ruling in cases? Using a survey experiment that varies judge gender in a state child custody case, we examine whether respondents exhibit less support for judicial decisions authored by female state court judges. Additionally, we test whether respondents are more likely to perceive the decisions of female state court judges as ideologically biased or as a product of gender influences (as compared to male judges). Finally, we assess whether these effects are conditional on or exacerbated by respondent characteristics such as gender, race, and religiosity. The influence of gender on public response to state court decisions has important implications for our understanding of why certain court decisions find public support and acceptance.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Cindy Ostberg & Matthew Wetstein, Strategic Behavior and Leadership Patterns of Modern Chief Justices
This study uses theories of strategic behaviour, leadership change and feminist theory to examine patterns of judicial activity by the three post-Charter chief justices. Building on prior scholarship, we use various methods to examine patterns of majority voting, dissenting activity, opinion writing, ideological voting, and panel size across the 1973-2014 period. While Chief Justice Lamer and Dickson exhibited clear patterns of task leadership, we find strong evidence of strategic change by Chief Justice McLachlin after her promotion to chief. She moved from a prolific dissenter as an associate justice to a chief that exhibited behaviour of both a task and social leader, which scholars see as highly uncommon. Her efforts to solidify her central role as a collegial leader within her own court are remarkable, and took place during a period of increasing panel sizes and a shrinking court docket.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Nearly 20 reforms and improvements have been implemented or are under development to help address workplace conduct concerns in the federal judiciary, James C. Duff, Chair of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, reported today at the biannual meeting of the Judicial Conference.
In introducing Duff before he delivered his report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who is the Conference's presiding officer, told the group, "I would like to reiterate what I stated in my year-end report. I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise the federal judiciary. I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have a clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies. The Work of this group will help our branch take the necessary steps to ensure an exemplary workplace for every court employee."
“Any harassment in the judiciary is too much,” Duff said in his report to the Conference. He told the Conference that the Working Group hopes to simplify and develop additional options, at both the national and local levels, for employees to seek assistance with workplace conduct matters. . . .
Representatives of current and former law clerks and a cross-section of current judiciary employees met with the Working Group at its most recent meeting and had what Duff described as "an informative and productive discussion."
The Working Group also is receiving input via a mailbox on uscourts.gov, through which current and former judiciary employees can submit comments relating to the policies and procedures for protecting all judiciary employees from inappropriate workplace conduct....
The following either have been accomplished or are in progress:
- Provided a session on sexual harassment during the ethics training for newly appointed judges in February.
- Established an online mailbox and several other avenues and opportunities for current and former judiciary employees to comment on policies and procedures for protecting and reporting workplace misconduct.
- Added instructive in-person programs on judiciary workforce policies and procedures and workplace sexual harassment to the curricula at Federal Judicial Center programs for chief district and chief bankruptcy judges this spring and upcoming circuit judicial conferences throughout the country this spring and summer.
- Removed the model confidentiality statement from the judiciary’s internal website to revise it to eliminate any ambiguous language that could unintentionally discourage law clerks or other employees from reporting sexual harassment or other workplace misconduct.
- Improve law clerk and employee orientations with increased training on workplace conduct rights, responsibilities, and recourse that will be administered in addition to, as well as separately from, other materials given in orientations.
- Provide “one click” website access to obtain information and reporting mechanisms for both Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) and Judicial Conduct and Disability Act (JC&D) claims for misconduct.
- Create alternative and less formalized options for seeking assistance with concerns about workplace misconduct, both at the local level and in a national, centralized office at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, to enable employees to raise concerns more easily.
- Provide a simplified flowchart of the processes available under the EDR and JC&D.
- Create and encourage a process for court employee/law clerk exit interviews to determine if there are issues and suggestions to assist court units in identifying potential misconduct issues.
- Establish a process for former law clerks and employees to communicate with and obtain advice from relevant offices and committees of the judiciary.
- Continue to examine and clarify the Codes of Conduct for judges and employees.
- Improve communications with EDR and JC&D complainants during and after the claims process.
- Revise the Model EDR Plan to provide greater clarity to employees about how to navigate the EDR process.
- Establish qualifications and expand training for EDR Coordinators.
- Lengthen the time allowed to file EDR complaints.
- Integrate sexual harassment training into existing judiciary programs on discrimination and courtroom practices.
- Review the confidentiality provisions in several employee/law clerk handbooks to revise them to clarify that nothing in the provisions prevents the filing of a complaint.
- Identify specifically the data that the judiciary collects about judicial misconduct complaints to add a category for any complaints filed relating to sexual misconduct. The data shows that of the 1,303 misconduct complaints filed in fiscal year 2016, more than 1,200 were filed by dissatisfied litigants and prison inmates. No complaints were filed by law clerks or judiciary employees and no misconduct complaints related to sexual harassment.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Rebecca Gills & Christian Jensen, Where are the Women? Legal Traditions and Descriptive Representation on the European Court of Justice, in Politics, Groups, and Identities (Feb. 2018)
What constrains the representation of women on the European Court of Justice (ECJ)? In this paper, we investigate how gender-based double standards can diminish the likelihood that the member state will select a female candidate. We find that the appointment of women to the ECJ depends upon the relationship between the appointee's policymaking backgrounds and the degree to which legal traditions in the member state provide policymaking experience to ordinary judges. The fact that this configuration has a disparate impact by candidate gender reflects the fact that female candidates are expected to demonstrate partisan neutrality or policymaking expertise, while male candidates are assumed to have these traits. Our findings demonstrate the importance of informal job requirements and institutional constraints on the ability of governments to achieve their representation goals.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Gendered Relations of the Judges on the Brazilian Supreme Court and the Impact on Judicial Decisionmaking
Supreme Courts are generally portrayed as institutions particularly well-positioned to defend and promote rights of minorities, including gender rights. However, gender discrimination often occurs within these institutions. Although existing empirical studies have largely focused on how the gender of the judge affects his or her decisions on the merits of the case, gender hierarchy and gender stereotypes can have an impact in other aspects of Court’s operation, such as in how judges relate to one another during deliberations. The paper aims to explore one facet of this phenomenon by looking at gendered relations judges in the Brazilian Supreme Court decision-making process. By examining a database containing all the court rulings debates between 2001 and 2013, we analyze the impact of gender in two dimensions of judicial behavior in a collegiate setting. More specifically, we test whether the gender of their colleagues affect how Brazilian Supreme Court Justices behaves when it comes to (i) dissenting from the case reporter's opinion; and (ii) asking for deliberations to be suspended, after the case reporter has spoken, in order to further study the arguments and case files. In all these dimensions, we expect the justices' confidence in the reporter's or the dissenter's knowledge or authority on the issues being discussed plays an important role, which makes them relevant to understanding the role of gender stereotypes. Our preliminary results point to gender biases in the Justices' attitudes towards female case reporters and female dissenters in at least one of these dimensions: when the case reporter is female, the other Justices are more likely to dissent. We interpret these results as suggesting that gender stereotypes -- for example, that women are less competent or reliable, and/or less likely or less able to retaliate -- might help us understand decision-making in the STF and in Brazilian courts more generally.
Friday, February 9, 2018
Justice Sonia Sotomayor this week homed in on pay inequality as one of the country’s biggest issues, as lawsuits are underway challenging the gender pay gaps at major companies and the Trump administration defends its scuttling of an expanded federal pay data rule.
In an appearance Wednesday at Brown University, Sotomayor was asked by a student what she considered the greatest challenges facing women.
“Women doing the same work still earn less than men. You can’t fight the facts. Pay equality is one of the biggest issues our nation faces,” Sotomayor said.
In November, the National Women’s Law Center and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement sued the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They charged that government officials illegally blocked an Obama administration rule that would have required employers with 100 or more employees to report pay for their employees by race, gender and ethnicity.
The data rule was eliminated without explanation or opportunity for public comment, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.***
Pay inequality wasn’t the only gender-related challenge on Sotomayor’s mind during the Brown discussion. She made a larger point about gender equality in the law:
“When I started, [law] firms of 300 and 400 had one or two female partners, and they were touting how progressive they were. What a joke, right? They told me that over time, we would reach equality. Well, I started in 1979, and there’s still only one-third women as federal judges, and we’re a lot of women in the profession. So, what’s happening?”
Monday, February 5, 2018
The Second Circuit Judicial Council on Monday said it will take no action on a sexual misconduct complaint against former federal appellate judge Alex Kozinski because his retirement deprived the panel of any authority to “do anything more.”
“Because Alex Kozinski has resigned the office of circuit judge, and can no longer perform any judicial duties, he does not fall within the scope of persons who can be investigated under the [Judicial Conduct and Disability] Act,” the council stated in an order published Monday.
Kozinski, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, was accused of sexual misconduct in December by six former clerks or staffers, including former clerk Heidi Bond. The Washington Post, which first revealed the misconduct allegations, reported that Kozinski showed them pornographic images multiple times in his court chambers.
The complaint filed against Kozinski and subsequently referred to the Second Judicial Council by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was based on The Washington Post allegations.
Kozinski announced his retirement, effective immediately on Dec. 18.
Katherine Ku, Pressuring Harassers to Quit Can End Up Protecting Them
Although the #MeToo movement is rightly being celebrated for bringing down men who have abused their power, many of these men are not at the end of their careers. Already, the process of salvage has begun. Talent agent Adam Venit, accused of groping by actor Terry Crews, had to relinquish his position as head of WME’s motion picture division, but he was back at the agencyafter a 30-day unpaid suspension. New York Times star reporter Glenn Thrush, accused of inappropriate behavior by four female journalists, has been reassigned from the high-profile White House beat but is scheduled to return to the newsroom this month, after two months’ unpaid leave and training, counseling and substance abuse treatment.***
[I]t appears that Kozinski’s future in the legal profession almost certainly will be decided without the benefit of a robust investigation. At some point, a law school dean may have to weigh whether to place him in a position of trust over budding legal careers. Law firms may need to assess whether he’d be a fair mediator or arbitrator for their clients’ disputes. And the people making those decisions will have to do so without knowing the full scope of his misconduct.
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Joan Biskupic, #MeToo in the Courts: Sexual Misconduct Kept Under Wraps, CNN Investigation
The abuse women have suffered in the nation's courthouses has been a largely untold story. And its system for complaints -- where judges police fellow judges -- is a world so closely controlled and cloaked in secrecy that it defies public scrutiny.***
Rarely do sexual misconduct allegations against federal judges become public, . . . as they did in late 2017, with myriad complaints against California-based US Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski that drew national attention in the current #MeToo moment, forcing his resignation....CNN compiled and reviewed nearly 5,000 judicial orders related to misconduct complaints and available online over the past 10 years. The documents, covering an array of misbehavior beyond sexual misconduct, are remarkably short on details.The CNN analysis found that:
- Very few cases against judges are deeply investigated, and very few judges are disciplined in any way. In many years, not a single judge is sanctioned.
- None of the actual complaints (more than 1,000 are filed annually) are made public. In the public judicial orders, claims are sparingly summarized, and accused judges' names rarely appear. Some orders refer to "corrective action" by a judge without saying what happened.
- Judicial orders are dumped onto circuit court websites as a series of numbered files with no indication of the allegations, person complaining or outcome. The practice makes it even more difficult to identify the most serious misconduct cases hidden among the opaque lists of documents because each order must be opened and individually read to gain even minimal information about the nature of the complaint.In the 12-month period that ended September 30, 2016, there were 1,303 complaints filed. Of those, only four were referred to a special committee for the most serious level of investigation, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts. In 2015, of the 1,214 complaints, four went to a special committee.Going back to 2006, fewer than 10 cases annually were deeply investigated and even fewer resulted in disciplinary action. In six of the past 11 years, not a single judge was reprimanded, suspended or otherwise sanctioned for misconduct.
Monday, January 29, 2018
I previously posted about the positive response to Judge Rosemarie Aquinlina's approach to the sentencing phase of the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar in the USA Gymnastics case.
Now here are the criticisms, particularly of the judge's personal comments from the bench.
Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the astounding sentencing hearing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar this month, has emerged as a heroine for victims of sexual assault.
Her decision to allow 156 women and girls to address their alleged abuser in court, with their emotional testimony streamed live across the nation, created an invaluable opportunity for catharsis, and directed vital attention to what is likely the worst sex abuse scandal in U.S. sports history.
But Aquilina’s manner during sentencing, in which she said she was honored to sentence Nassar to die in prison and suggested he deserved to be sexually assaulted himself, has raised questions about whether she overstepped her role as an impartial arbiter of justice.
It is not unusual for judges to use emotional language during sentencing, or to offer their frank opinion about what a heinous person they believe the defendant to be, based on their criminal conduct. That’s not inconsistent with impartiality, so long as the judge’s opinion is drawn from the relevant facts in the case, and not extraneous factors, such as the race of a defendant.***
Jonathan Jacobs, director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he was surprised by Aquilina’s remarks on the Eighth Amendment, given her lengthy legal experience. (She was elected to the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County, Michigan, in 2008.)
Jacobs said her comments could be construed as showing a sort of animus toward the defendant, and speculated that Nassar’s attorneys might try to use the remark to get leverage in whatever appeal they make.
Professors Charles Geyh, Brenda Smith, Robert Schuwerk, Stephen Gillers also weigh in.
The Atlantic, Where Nassar's Judge Went Wrong
But no matter how good Aquilina’s intentions, for a judge to make herself the face of a social cause poses a threat to the fairness of our system. We rely on judges to ensure that people’s lives are decided by neutral, independent arbiters who impartially evaluate the evidence and apply the law. That’s the only way we can trust in a system that has such awesome power to take away people’s liberty.
To be clear, I am not challenging whether the sentence Aquilina imposed was the right call. The problem is not the lengthy sentence; it’s the way she positioned herself throughout the sentencing proceedings.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar was lauded as the go-to doctor for the United States’ best gymnasts. After he pleaded guilty to multiple sex crimes, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina cleared her docket to give each of his accusers a chance to speak at the sentencing hearing. More than 150 women, including several Olympians, confronted Dr. Nassar in the courtroom and spoke of their abuse. It took seven days.
It was an extraordinary use of the courtroom — and a new way of thinking about justice.
On today’s episode: Emily Bazelon, who covers legal issues for The New York Times Magazine.; Makayla Thrush, a former gymnast who made a statement at the sentencing, spoke to Sabrina Tavernise, a Times reporter.
Judge Aquilina, who has now allowed nearly 140 girls and women, including several prominent Olympic gymnasts, to give statements against Dr. Nassar, leaned forward from the bench. She smiled at the gymnast, Bailey Lorencen, and delivered her own heartfelt statement in a manner and tone befitting a therapist.
“The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you,” Judge Aquilina told Ms. Lorencen, calling her a “heroine” and a “superhero.” She added: “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”
Belying the stone-faced image of dispassionate jurists, Judge Aquilina has emerged as an unusually fierce victims’ advocate in a sentencing hearing that has drawn national attention for the scope of Dr. Nassar’s abuse and for the role that institutions like U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University played in employing him for decades.
Judge Aquilina’s vow to let every victim speak has also unexpectedly turned the hearing into a cathartic forum that has emboldened dozens of women who had remained silent to come forward with accounts of abuse by Dr. Nassar. Court officials initially had expected 88 young women to speak when the hearing began last week, but the number is expected to top 150 by the time these proceedings conclude.
Judge Aquilina, 59, who has written crime novels and served 20 years in the Michigan Army National Guard, has offered encouragement, consolation and tissues. She has made no secret that she wants Dr. Nassar to spend the rest of his life suffering in prison.
And, in an extraordinary session streamed live on the internet over several days, she has opened her courtroom to any victim who wishes to speak, for however long she wishes to speak. That goes for their coaches and parents, too.
“Leave your pain here,” Judge Aquilina told one young woman, “and go out and do your magnificent things.”
Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, said that although judges are often thought of as unbiased and impartial, it is important to remember that this is a sentencing hearing, not a trial. Dr. Nassar, who has already received a 60-year federal sentence for a child pornography conviction, pleaded guilty to several state sexual assault charges and will be sentenced after the “victim impact statements” are finished.
For survivors of rape and abuse, testifying about what they’ve experienced can be a brutal ordeal. They can be badgered and disoriented by defense attorneys on the stand, and have their characters closely prodded and maligned. But Judge Aquilina, again, upended this ritual, enabled by the fact that it was a sentencing hearing, not a trial. She turned obligation into empowerment. She told the women speaking, again and again, how strong they were, how powerful, how full of potential. After Mattie Larson spoke about how Nassar turned “the sport I fell in love with as a kid into my personal living hell,” Judge Aquilina commended her courage. “You are so strong and brave and you are not broken,” she said. “You are glued back together perfectly. Thank you for being part of the sister survivors. Your voice means everything.”
Though many have commended Aquilina for giving victims a forum to speak, one judge who has known her for years criticized her as showing favoritism.
Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette said Nassar’s sentencing was “the most violative” sentencing proceeding he can recall. Collette questioned why Aquilina would allow women who are not part of the criminal case to address Nassar in court. He also found it inappropriate for her to tell Nassar, “I just signed your death warrant.”
“There has to be some semblance of fairness, no matter how much you hate the person,” Collette said.
“Doing justice is one thing," he said. "It is not a judge’s function to get people healed.”