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Opinion page editor Rick Holmes and other writers blog about national politics and issues. Holmes & Co. is a Blog for Independent Minds, a place for a free-flowing discussion of policy, news and opinion. This blog is the online cousin of the Opinion ...
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Opinion page editor Rick Holmes and other writers blog about national politics and issues. Holmes & Co. is a Blog for Independent Minds, a place for a free-flowing discussion of policy, news and opinion. This blog is the online cousin of the Opinion section of the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass. As such, our focus starts there and spreads to include Massachusetts, the nation and the world. Since successful blogs create communities of readers and writers, we hope the \x34& Co.\x34 will also come to include you.
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By Rob Meltzer
April 4, 2013 12:20 a.m.



This afternoon I found myself in an interesting discussion with a group of lawyers from Montana and Wyoming who were scratching their collective heads. Montana federal judge Richard Cebull, who is fairly well respected, resigned because of a joke that he forwarded to six friends on his personal email. He was forced to resign because of the racist nature of the joke. The joke reads as follows:



“A little boy said to his mother, “mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?” His mother replied, “don’t even go there Barack! From what I remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”



Let’s start, perhaps, with a stipulation that the joke isn’t funny. Let’s also start with a stipulation that telling jokes to your friends on your personal email isn’t a crime, and that we still live in a society in which we have free speech. Let’s also note that there is no evidence whatsoever that the judge has a demonstrated history of bias against anyone, or that he has ever made a public comment which reflects bias. Let’s also note that this is shortly after we can compare his conduct to that of a Rutgers coach who was fired for being an out of control maniac and, amongst other things, assaulting his players and calling them faggots, reported by AP as “the f word” which took me a long time to figure out was distinct from the f word. If I were to really think about this joke, what bothers me isn’t  a racial overtone, but a sense that he thinks rape is somehow funny. That’s the question I would want answered, but I still don’t think it disqualifies someone from the federal bench.



Back to the question: Could someone please explain to me how this joke is racist or how it has racial overtones? The joke has a protagonist who is black and has a white mother. Is it shocking that the father is black? Is it false that Obama’s father is black and his mother white? Does the suggestion shock?  The joke suggests that the mother had sexual relations that night with a black man and perhaps a dog. OK. That’s the joke. Where’s the racism?



And then let’s get to the issue that our society has become so politically correct that a judge should be forced to resign because of this? Do we all want to live on Vulcan, where the chief criteria of superiority is the ability to suppress such thoughts? As a member of the bar, the fact that this judge has friends, that he knows how to use email, and that he has something of a sense of humor, does not disqualify from judging. I don’t raise this issue hypothetically. Amongst members of the bar, one of the greatest complaints we hear now is that judges lack any concept of real life experience, they cannot think like human beings, because the process of confirmation favors those who have never experienced the real world. OK, throw out a judge who perhaps says or does something that indicates an inability to reason impartially, but this joke suggests that maybe the judge really does have an empathy that makes him more, not less, fit.



 

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