Richard G. Kopf is a senior district court judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, and a blogger. He is also,I would say obviously, an Ethics Dunce. Why?
He told the U.S. Supreme Court to shut the fuck up.
He really did.
That he did this on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, doesn’t matter. It was in print, in public, and he’s a Federal judge. The obscenity came in the context of Judge Kopf’s criticism of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, but the context doesn’t matter either. There is no context in which it would be appropriate, judicial and ethical for a member of the judiciary to tell the Supreme Court of the United States to shut the fuck up. Nor does it matter that he used the texting code stfu rather than spelling out the words.
For a Federal judge to be openly disrespectful, uncivil and abusive to the top of the nation’s judicial branch is an assault on the rule of law, and undermines public respect for our institutions. As lawyer and blogger Rich Hasen wrote,
“Just like a member of Congress should not yell out “You lie” to the President during the state of the union regardless of how much that member disagrees with the President, our social fabric depends upon expressing disagreement in a constructive and respectful way.”
Hasen and others writing about Kopf’s undignified and offensive attack on the Supreme Court have noted that he caused an earlier controversy by writing about how he likes female lawyers appearing in his court to wear short skirts and to reveal as much of their “ample breasts” as possible. I don’t think this is relevant either. OK, he’s sexist jerk and a dirty old man. The judicial system is crawling with them, and yet he is the only one who has told the highest court in the land to shut the fuck up.
There is hope for the judge yet. A lawyer whom he knows and respects wrote him a private note clearly and persuasively explaining why Kopf’s intemperance was harmful and wrong. To his credit, Kopf received permission to publish it on the blog, and did. The letter said in part…
“It is not that a judge, any more or less than anyone else, does or does not have thoughts like the more controversial ones you write about in your blog; it is that a judge should display the thoughtfulness and restraint appropriately expected of people who have accepted society’s call to judiciously make important, vital decisions. It is entirely proper for us to expect that judges not be publicly profane, lewd, or disrespectful; and it is entirely proper to expect judges’ words and deeds to be consistent with the high ideals of integrity and justice. In fact, the success, or lack of success, of our legal system largely depends on judges’ meeting these standards”
Kopf says he is taking these words to heart, and will be considering over the next few days whether to end his blogging and, I fervently hope, to apologize to SCOTUS.
And the nation.
Post Script: Even more disturbing than the lack of decorum and professionalism by the judge are the majority of the comments following the critical letter. Most of them say, in essence, that the Supreme Court deserves to be treated like this, which was exactly how Rep. Joe Wilson’s boorish and irrational supporters reacted to his “You lie!” breach of Congressional ethics and the duties of citizenship.. If the objective is to speed a complete breakdown in public respect for our institutions, divisive partisans like Kopf and Wilson are doing a bang-up job. Neither they, nor you, nor I will like where this will lead if our leaders and officials don’t come to their senses. Obviously, Kopf’s blog has done plenty of damage already.
Pointer: Washington Post (Volokh)