HOUSTON - An outspoken federal judge is catching heat from a civil rights group that wants him to step down from his post because of what it criticizes as “outlandish racial comments.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project has filed a formal judicial complaint and it’s calling for the resignation of U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, whose feisty and argumentative style on the bench has won him fans and foes around the federal courthouse.
Hughes has become fodder for criticism in legal blogs and journals over a number of comments he has recently made in court.
At one point, during a hearing in a racial discrimination case, Hughes reportedly said, “Eleanor Roosevelt said staffs of one color always work better.”
During the same hearing, Hughes also reportedly questioned the role of diversity programs.
“Why don’t they just hire people and let diversity take care of itself?” Hughes asked, according to the group’s complaint. “And what does the diversity director do? Go around and painting (sic) students different colors so that they would think they were mixed?”
The comments came during a hearing last November in an employment discrimination case filed by a former employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“There is absolutely no room for that kind of discourse by a federal judge obliged to enforce the nation’s anti-discrimination laws,” said the group’s complaint to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Judge Hughes’ comments show that his personal beliefs about race and religion warp his judicial decision-making.”
The complaint says the judge’s remarks prove he “obviously cannot” uphold federal anti-discrimination laws.
Hughes is renowned around Houston’s federal courthouse for provocatively challenging attorneys arguing cases in his court.
Attorneys who have appeared in his court describe him as a libertarian and a contrarian who’s especially distrustful of government authorities. Some lawyers love him, others think he’s crazy.
The reaction to a document signed by Hughes that’s making the rounds of legal blogs epitomizes how attorney opinions differ. While some lawyers decry it, others laugh about the written order in which Hughes told an attorney, “Emails will not be read and will be deleted. The court is not your ex-girlfriend’s Facebook wall.”
“Is Judge Hughes a crusty old fellow and feisty old fellow?” asked Gerald Treece, the dean of the South Texas College of Law, a longtime friend of Hughes. “Yes. But I think he uses that with his particular kind of anti-federal government attitude he’s had. And he’s always that. But I’ve never, ever equated that with racism.”
The judge did not return calls for comment.