People For the American Way

Report on Judge Cebull Shows Why Courts Matter

At the end of last week, America learned the extent of former Judge Richard Cebull's racist, sexist, and overtly political behavior before he was pressured to retire from his position as a federal district judge in Montana.

Nearly two years ago, the Great Falls Tribune uncovered a disgustingly racist e-mail about President Obama that Judge Cebull had sent from his work e-mail to his friends. When confronted, Cebull explained that he doesn't like the president – as if that justified the e-mail or was even an appropriate sentiment for a sitting judge to publicly express. Racism and openly expressed partisanship are toxic to the idea of a fair and just federal court system, which relies on having trustworthy, unbiased judges, which is why PFAW called on Judge Cebull to resign. Instead, he remained on the bench for over a year and only retired when it seemed a report on his misconduct might become public otherwise.

Last week, overruling the Ninth Circuit, a national panel of judges ordered the report released. As the Great Falls Tribune reports:

A review of four years' worth of emails from former Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull's federal email account found "hundreds" of emails "related to race, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation and politically sensitive issues that were inappropriate for Judge Cebull to have sent from his federal email account."

A national panel of federal judges released the 9th U.S. Circuit Court Judicial Council's March order late Friday that found Cebull in violation of numerous ethics codes.

The full report makes clear just how compromised Cebull was as an impartial judge deciding important cases of federal law. One line makes especially clear that this isn't just about interesting academic discussions of the law: It's about people's lives. Cebull himself told investigators that he was "acutely aware that each day in my court is the most important day in someone's life."

That is an important point. People rely on our federal judiciary to have their day in court when their rights have been violated. From job and housing discrimination to civil rights violations and voter disenfranchisement, from predatory lending practices to consumer fraud, from immigrant rights to environmental protection, from small business contracts to business mergers, the federal courts decide cases that have an enormous impact on people's lives.

Courts matter. That's why it matters who sits on those courts.


judges, Lower Federal Courts, racism, Richard Cebull, sexism