Herbert Dyer, Jr.

Remember Judge Richard Cebull? He’s the Chief Federal Judge in Montana who last March was caught forwarding an admittedly racist email about blacks and President Obama’s mother. He implied that Obama’s mother’s sexual tryst with a dog produced the president.

Well, according to the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the good judge has voluntarily “semi-retired.” He’d been under a lot of pressure from various anti-racist organizations to quit completely. He was also being investigated by the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit in Montana.

To review: The good Judge Cebull admitted sending the email in an interview with the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune. It was that paper which obtained a copy of the email and then busted publicly this arbiter of life and death. The good Judge Cebull agreed that although the email itself was racist, he himself was good, of course, and certainly not a racist.

After being busted, the good judge sent a self-serving letter to Obama, which reads, in pertinent part:

"I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself."

And, in fact, it was Cebull who requested that the Ninth Circuit do the investigation of his actions. "Honestly, I don't know what else I can do," good Judge Cebull wrote in his apologia.

Later, the good judge again disavowed any racism, saying that his remarks were merely “anti-Obama."

Now, without waiting for the results of the investigation, the good Judge Cebull will take voluntary "senior status" next March. This means that he, the good judge, will leave his position as Chief Judge but remain “available” to adjudicate a “reduced caseload.” In the irony of all ironies, Obama will name the good Judge Cebull’s replacement.

Let’s be clear. The good Judge Cebull did not write the email, but forwarded it to “a few friends” after receiving it from his brother.

The good Judge Cebull's forwarding missive included these "touching" words:

"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.

"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 can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"

The good Judge Cebull’s been on the federal bench since 2001, having been appointed by President George Bush, of course. He has been chief judge since 2008, a very powerful position. In addition to hearing cases, the good judge also oversaw the work of two other full-time district judges, three senior or part-time judges and five magistrates.

As stated, civil rights and other organizations have called for 68-year-old good Judge Cebull to retire completely, that he should have done so back in March when his racist rants were revealed.

"Americans expect the courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all," said Michael Keegan of the People for the American Way. "Cebull clearly demonstrated that he does not have the temperament to serve as a federal judge, period."

Removing a federal judge from the bench is next to impossible. Only Congress can initiate impeachment proceedings because the Constitution provides that they are appointed for a period of “good behavior.” And, short of outright civil or criminal conduct, again, only Congress determines what is “good” or “bad” behavior. Conceivably, a federal judge could be convicted of a crime but still sit in judgment of others if Congress did not act.

The good Judge Cebull’s assumption of “Senior” status is also a feathered bed of roses. It allows federal judges to “semi-retire” at full pay. The good judge must only meet two requirements: 1) be 65 years old; and 2) have served for 15 years.

As to the United States Supreme Court, retired Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens are all on “senior” status. However, they are not allowed to hear current Supreme Court cases.


How do you think you’d feel appearing before the good Judge Cebull as an African American, Hispanic or Native American? Would you expect to receive an impartial prosecution of your criminal case, or a fair hearing of your civil suit against, let’s say the Billings, Montana Police Department?

The obvious problem here is that the court system – local, state, and federal – is infested with right wing, so-called “conservative” arbiters of American life. These guys and gals have been appointed by like-minded governors and presidents since the founding of this country. It is one of the many reasons the prisons are so overwhelming filled with black and brown people, many of whom languish in those hell-holes for decades before DNA or other “new” evidence finally springs them.

Thus, it will be interesting, to say the least, to see whom President Obama appoints to replace the good Judge Richard Cebull.