by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.
July 16, 2014
I recently wrote about the depressing abuse of free speech in which a song writer decided to ridicule the Supreme Court justices in the Hobby Lobby majority opinion for nothing connected to the opinion whatsoever. Yes, of course. Freedom … .
Since then, a federal judge weighed in on his personal blog with his view that, instead of ruling on the issues in Hobby Lobby, the Court should “stfu” “shut the f*** up” in the parlance of some kids these days. Apparently, U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf of Nebraska believes the Court shouldn’t wade into issues to which he believes most Americans would react poorly. His reaction is the poor one, however. What’s worse is that it comes from a federal judge.
Therefore, I was heartened to see the news in the L.A. Times that he was being rebuked for his entirely improper behavior:
“[A]fter coming under fire from fellow jurists and legal experts for writing a blistering criticism of the high court’s recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case,” Judge Kopf was reported to comment that “[b]logging will be light while I figure this out.”
The L.A. Times is too kind, though. And imprecise. It wasn’t his “blistering criticism” of the decision that was problematic—it was his attack on other judges, his choice of words in that attack, and his crude rejection of the decision which betrayed any semblance of impartiality. Criticism of legal arguments and decisions occurs all the time and is a normal and even necessary component to our judicial system. What is not proper, however, is a personal attack. Neither is an overtly partial judge. But what is most troubling is Judge Kopf’s use of an obscenity. It has no place on the federal bench.
The judge, who also caught the attention of many earlier this year for inappropriate comments about a female attorney, apparently cut back on his recent blogging activity after receiving “a note from a lawyer he held in the highest respect who explained to him that people ‘expect judges not to be publicly profane, lewd or disrespectful.’”
Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Lawyer, whoever you are. You are a credit to the profession.
As the L.A. Times reports: “The incident raised questions about whether impartial, black-robed jurists can thrive in a blogosphere that often places high value on quick analysis and provocative comments.”
Exactly. Judges should simply refrain from blogging if they can’t resist the temptation. For now, I extend a hearty “thank you” to the attorney who took the time to explain to Judge Kopf that his behavior was indecent. Such actions preserve the integrity of the bar and the decency of our society.