Perhaps you’ve noticed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the news lately. This week, the main storyline has been Trump’s criticism of the California federal district court judge presiding over a suit over Trump University. Here’s one story among gazillions.
Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article headlined, “A Biased Judge? Donald Trump Has Claimed It Before.” As a Third Circuit junkie, here’s the passage that jumped out at me:
Mr. Trump ridiculed a Pennsylvania judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter as “not his most brilliant appointment,” and wrote that the judge was “a willing accessory” to any crimes of convicts she had released from prison.
He does this despite his close ties to a federal judge, Maryanne Trump Barry, his sister.
What? A Pennsylvania judge appointed by Carter? Was he talking about Judge Sloviter? The article didn’t say.
So I went digging. It turns out he wasn’t talking about Sloviter, he was talking about EDPA Judge Norma Shapiro. The comments are from Trump’s 2000 book The America We Deserve. Trump argues we need judicial elections because “Criminals are often returned to society because of forgiving judges” and “When they hurt us, we need to make sure we can vote them out of the job.” He muses “what wonders a public vote would work on the career of Norma Shapiro,” then describes a 90’s case where she ordered prisoners released due to prison overcrowding. (Here’s one contemporary news story.) He called the ruling a “disaster” and “Shapiro’s jailbreak,” and said:
From 1998 to 1992, 20 percent of thugs arrested for killing cops were out on probation or parole. In my opinion, Judge Shapiro was a willing accessory to all those crimes.
Trump went on to write, “Unfortunately, there are plenty of Shapiros out there, which is one major reason why our streets are full of dangerous convicts.” Conclusion: “Clearly we don’t have too many people in prison. Quite the contrary.”
I have not seen any reporting at all on whether Trump still believes federal judges should be elected, and he has largely avoided discussing criminal-justice reform.
So, not Sloviter, but still extraordinary.
The outrageous, false and personal attacks on Judge Shapiro over the Philadelphia prison overcrowding case were engineered by the office of District Attorney Lynn Abraham. They were widely perceived at the time — particularly by other judges and by the Bar — as an attack on the independence of the judiciary. Abraham then took her sore-loser complaints to Washington and buffaloed Congress into enacting the so-called Prison Litigation Reform Act.
The “argument” that a judge cannot be objective and fair if s/he comes from the same ethnic group as a party to the litigation (which is only invoked by members of the majority ethnicity, it seems, against minority judges), is objectively racist. It was authoritatively debunked in 1974 by the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham — then a district judge, and later Chief Judge of the Third Circuit — when his recusal was sought in a race-discrimination case on the ground that he was black and had spoken out publicly in support of civil rights. See Commw of PA v. Local 542, Int’l U. of Operating Engineers, 388 F.Supp. 155 (E.D.Pa. 1974).