Judge's words spark controversy
03:07 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Civil rights group: Judge said certain races are prone to crime and violence

Judge Edith Jones sits on the 5th Circuit Appeals Court

In a lecture, she allegedly said race did not influence the application of the death penalty

Years ago, Jones was made Bush's short list for Supreme Court contenders

CNN  — 

Civil rights groups filed a complaint this week against a federal judge in Houston after she allegedly said during a lecture that some minorities are prone to violence.

Judge Edith Jones, who serves on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was a Bush-era Supreme Court frontrunner, allegedly made the comment while speaking on the death penalty to The Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania in February.

The Federalist Society describes itself on its website as “a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of legal order.”

In her remarks, Jones also is alleged to have said race plays no role in the administration of the death penalty, but certain ethnic groups commit certain types of crimes more often than others.

Civil rights groups, including the J.L. Turner Legal Association, say Jones’ comments reveal a strong ethnic bias. They are pushing for an investigation that could lead to her removal from the bench.

The J.L. Turner Legal Association is an African-American bar association in Dallas. Its president, Mandy Price, told CNN that some attendees were shocked at what they heard and later complained.

“The reaction in the room when she made these remarks was one of shock, surprise, and offense,” according to one account that the legal association collected from some of the attendees.

The Federalist Society itself, however, called the allegations “frivolous accusations.”

ACLU: Blacks busted for marijuana at much higher rates than whites

According to the some of the accounts in the complaint, the judge said, “Racial groups like African- Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.”

They are “‘prone to commit acts of violence,” she said, according to the complaint.

When challenges to her comments arose, she allegedly countered them by saying that “blacks and Hispanics” outnumber “Anglos” on death row.

Price says such comments reveal strong predispositions sitting judges should not harbor.

“We expect that they’re going to be fair, impartial, not that they have predetermined their case,” she said.

A representative from the court, which is headquartered in New Orleans, declined to comment to CNN, and said Jones also is “not making any comment regarding the matter.”

Jones was on President George W. Bush’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, though legal observers remarked at the time that her reputation has a staunch conservative – firmly upholding the death penalty and vocally critical of the Roe v. Wade decision, among other issues – hurt her odds.

“The decision for which Judge Jones is really best known is her opinion saying, ‘While I’m a lower court judge, I will apply Roe v. Wade, but I think it was wrongly decided and should be overruled,’” Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein told CNN. “That really typifies her role as a lower court judge but signals what she would do if she became a Supreme Court justice.”

Read more identity news on CNN’s In America blog