W’s Worst Judges: The Sorry Six

In eight years, Bush installed 310 federal judges. Here are some to keep an eye on, along with their more notable rulings before and after elevation.


Over the past eight years, Bush has installed 310 federal judges—two of them to the highest court in the land—whose influence will be felt for many years. Here are some to keep an eye on, along with their more notable rulings before and after elevation.

william h. pryor jr., 11th Circuit
Precedent: As Alabama’s attorney general, defended the state’s practice of handcuffing prison inmates to hitching posts.
Case closed: Voted to uphold an Anita Bryant-era Florida law prohibiting gays and lesbians from adopting children—even when they’ve served as their foster parents.

priscilla owen, 5th Circuit
Precedent: Considered so conservative that Alberto Gonzales, her one-time colleague on the Texas Supreme Court, called one of her dissents (in an abortion case) “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”
Case closed: Reversed a $3.5 million malpractice verdict, saying the plaintiff should have spoken up sooner about the congestive heart failure she got from a drug she was given during pregancy. In his dissent, Reagan appointee Patrick Higginbotham accused Owen of imposing “tort reform by decree, not ballot.”

jay bybee, 9th Circuit
Precedent: As a top lawyer in the Bush Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issued an infamous memo finding that interrogation techniques are torture only if they are “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”
Case closed: Voted to strike down a jury award for a San Diego police sergeant forced to quit after he was deployed to Iraq with the Navy Reserve.

janice rogers brown, DC Circuit
Precedent: Deemed “not qualified” to sit on California’s Supreme Court by a state bar association panel. (She was appointed anyway.)
Case closed: Argued that a woman coerced into having sex with her boss was not a harassment victim unless she had been punished, demoted, or fired as a result.

d. brooks smith, 3rd Circuit
Precedent: Promised the Senate in 1988, when he was appointed to a federal trial court, that he would resign from an exclusive, men-only hunting club.
Case closed: He never did resign—until he learned there was a vacancy on the 3rd Circuit.

william riley, 8th Circuit
Precedent: Appointed directly from private practice, where he largely handled insurance defense cases.
Case closed: Earned a rep as Wal-Mart’s favorite judge, siding in favor of the company in three discrimination lawsuits. Wrote the majority opinion in a case ruling that the Americans with Disabilities Act did not apply to a diabetic pharmacist fired by Wal-Mart because he needed to take a regular uninterrupted lunch break in order to inject insulin and eat a special diet.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.