Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Colorful Judge in Hot Water over Fiery Bush/Hitler comparison

As reported by the New York Sun, Judge Guido Calabresi, a prominent federal appellate judge on the important U.S. Second Circuit, made remarks in which he compared Bush to Hitler. He reportedly urged the liberal audience to expel President Bush from office in order to cleanse the democratic system.

DFW is sympathetic to Judge Calabresi's views. One of the first things fascists in Europe did was to eliminate tenure for judges (so that they could be removed by the fascists for unfavorable opinions), so the concern is somewhat understandable given that, rightly or wrongly, many prominent people (especially in Europe) have expressed similar views and fears about President Bush.

Unfortunately, federal judges are not allowed to engage in partisan political activities. These remarks were interpreted as highly political at time

Judge Calabresi was thoroughly roasted in the media for making these remarks. Conservative newspapers ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Post wrote highly critical editorials. Prominent conservative (and some liberal) bloggers, including Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Volokh wrote scathing editorials on the judge's remarks. Conservative media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh weighed with their criticism. Even the often-liberal Anti Defamation League wrote Calabresi a public letter, pointing out his comments potentially diluted the memory of the Halocaust.

Ouch.

Judge Calabresi subsequently apologized for these remarks in a letter (another article), explaining they were intended as a complex academic argument, not partisan political activity. "For whatever I had in mind, what I actually said was too easily taken as partisan," the judge wrote. "That is something which judges should do their best to avoid, and there, I clearly failed."

Judge Calabresi's boss, Chief Judge John Walker, Jr., (a first cousin to President Bush), accepted Judge Calabresi's apology. In a letter from Walker to the judges of the 2nd Circuit (article), Judge Walker warned that partisan political activity by judges is expressly forbidden by the Code of Judicial Ethics.

Judge Calabresi was previously mentioned in the news article cited to support the DFW story on filmmaker Ken Burn's accusations of growing censorship in the United States. Since he is barred from engaging in political activities as a federal judge, the article noted that his wife was attending an anti-Bush protest rally on his behalf.

This latest incident isn't the first time Judge Calabresi (or "Guido" as he likes to be called) has frightened people unintentionally with his off-the-cuff remarks, or his habit of making a statement with what sounds like an obvious implied meaning, and then immediately retracting it.

For example, Judge Calabresi reportedly once wrote in a flyer for an influential religious congregation in Connecticut, where he is president of the board, words to the effect of: "Federal Judges are prohibited from fundraising [so he is not going to make fundraising-type statements in the letter]. But let me tell you where my heart is...." The group was heavily involved in fund-raising activities at the time, a fact prominently mentioned in other articles in the flyer.

Writes Lily Malcom of Kitchen Cabinet, "I can only add that 'Guido,' as he is called by Yale students, was not one of my favorite professors. Not for ideological reasons; it was more his egomaniacal elf/Santa routine that gave me the shivers." (Dan Music has a favorable account of said Santa routine.)

And, the seemingly very kind Judge Calabresi might casually mention, during the course of a conversation, the fact that he and his family like to vacation on the island of Sicily, in Italy, where he has many friends. If the other party is briefly shocked by this remark (They might be inclined to prejudice, and, upon hearing this, might visually note the locations of the building's exits. Especially if they were not quite sure how the conversation managed to wander over to the subject of Sicilian vacations or Sicilian friendships), he will insist that he meant nothing by this remark beyond a strict literal interpretation. He will assure you that he is from Northern Italy, from Milan. But he, his wife, and his family do enjoy the sun, the sea air, the beaches, and the food of Sicily, as well as the many warm Sicilian friendships he has made over the years.

Omigod.

Yes, well, we here at DFW certainly hope that's all he meant, as this essay is a little critical of the good judge, and yet we hope still to enjoy a long and productive blogging career. And, we believe the judge when he said he meant nothing partisan in his remarks before the American Constitution Society, but was simply formulating a complex non-partisan academic theory.

Judge Calabresi is obviously quite a colorful character. A graduate of Yale College, Yale Law School, a former Rhodes scholar and former dean of Yale Law School, Judge Calabresi is an undeniably brilliant legal scholar. He and his very well-to-do Italian family fled Italy under Mussolini for Connecticut, where his parents would take up positions as professors of Italian at Yale. He would reportedly learn five or six languages fluently from a string of governesses, later marry into one of the oldest and most respected families in Connecticut, and ultimately be appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. federal appellate court, where his political views might best be described as anti-choice liberal. He is listed in editions of Marquis Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Catholic America, whose entries on him suggest he is a member of just about every imaginable social club.

He's apparently even listed in an edition of Marquis Who's Who in History. In other words, he appears to have made the list of all-time greats.

Someone like that is probably entitled to the occasionally off-the-cuff remark, especially when DFW is somewhat sympathetic to their viewpoint.

Then again, these days anything goes.

Related other coverage:

Reuters article on why Sicily might not be the best vacation destination for American high society like the subject of this article: "Pitt, Zeta-Jones Mingle [Accidentally] with Mafia on [Sicily] Set"