Judicial Council Rightly Rebukes Judge Lynn Adelman for Law Review Diatribe

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Judicial Council Rightly Rebukes Judge Lynn Adelman for Law Review Diatribe

Jul 17th, 2020 3 min read

Commentary By

Zack Smith

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

GianCarlo Canaparo

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

Federal district court Judge Lynn Adelman had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day late last month. RUNSTUDIO / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Judges are not politicians, and they should not act like them.

The reputation of the entire judiciary rests on every judge’s ability to rise above the political fray.

Adelman’s article fails because it impermissibly wades into politics in a partisan manner and drags the whole judiciary through the political muck.

Federal district court Judge Lynn Adelman had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day late last month when the Judicial Council of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to publicly admonish him for his intemperate 35-page article, “The Roberts Court’s Assault on Democracy,” which personally attacked Chief Justice John Roberts, President Donald Trump, and the Republican Party.

Kudos to the council.

We had previously called for “the 7th Circuit [to] publicly censure Adelman for apparently violating the Code of Conduct [for United States Judges]” and are glad that the court took that appropriate course of action in his case.

Adelman wrote a March law review article for the Harvard Law & Policy Review, the official journal of the left-leaning American Constitution Society, in which he called Roberts’ promise to call “balls and strikes” a “masterpiece of disingenuousness.”

He accused Trump of failing “to enact policies beneficial to the general public,” of behaving like an “autocrat,” and of failing “to buck the wealthy individuals and corporations who control his party.”

If all of that weren’t enough, Adelman, a judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin since 1997, targeted Republicans for special criticism and went so far as to liken them to pro-slavery “fire-eaters” of the pre-Civil War South.

Given all of that, on March 13, we discussed the arrogance and asininity of Adelman’s article and noted that he had likely violated the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. We made clear that Adelman had “left him[self] vulnerable to well-founded complaints.”

Shortly thereafter, on March 16, March 23, and March 24, four individuals filed those well-founded complaints against Adelman. 

As the 10-page opinion of June 22 resolving the complaints says, “The article speaks for itself … .” 

The council’s opinion says, “Judges criticize one another’s reasoning, sometimes harshly. … Nothing said in this decision on the complaints should be interpreted as suggesting that judges should be silenced from criticizing court decisions.”

We agree, but Adelman, 80, crossed the line. 

The opinion continues:

More concerning, however, are the opening two sentences of the article [containing the ‘masterpiece of disingenuousness’ language] and the criticisms of recent policy positions taken by one political party. 

The opening two sentences could reasonably be understood by the public as an attack on the integrity of the Chief Justice, rather than disagreement with his votes and opinions in controversial cases. The attacks on Republican [P]arty positions could be interpreted, as the complaints have, as calling into question Judge Adelman’s impartiality in matters implicating partisan or ideological concerns. 

While not addressed by specific rules of judicial conduct, these portions of the article do not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Adelman “tried to amend the article, but was told by the publisher that it was too late to do so.” He did, however, issue a formal letter acknowledging that “some of the points I made in the article about the Roberts Court were inappropriately worded. I want to express my deep regret for not being more careful.”

His apology is an appropriate step. It does, however, raise the question: Is he sorry for inappropriately attacking his judicial colleague in a personal manner, inappropriately attacking the sitting president in a partisan manner, and inappropriately attacking the Republican Party, or is he just sorry for not couching those same partisan attacks in more politically palatable terms?

Regardless, the judicial council is correct that judges should openly and vigorously air their disagreements on issues of law, but that they must never act as partisan hacks shilling their views in a way that could undermine the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

As we noted in our previous article, Adelman’s censure is commensurate with the punishment handed down to Judge Guido Calabresi for politically charged comments he made in 2004.

The bottom line is, judges are not politicians, and they should not act like them.

The reputation of the entire judiciary rests on every judge’s ability to rise above the political fray. Adelman’s article fails because it impermissibly wades into politics in a partisan manner and drags the whole judiciary through the political muck.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal