Here’s the issue: In 2004, 2008, and 2009, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered whether state judges should be disciplined for their out-of-court statements that express hostility to particular groups. The key question in each case was whether the judges’ speech was protected by the First Amendment.More details at Volokh's post.
In 2004, Justice Graves took the view that a judge was not constitutionally protected against being disciplined for saying (in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, and in a radio interview) that “gays and lesbians should be put in some type of mental institute.”
In 2008, Justice Graves also took the view that a judge was not constitutionally protected against being disciplined for saying (at a judicial seminar) that “African-Americans in Hinds County [where the judge was serving] can go to hell for all I care.”
But in 2009, Justice Graves took the view that a judge was indeed constitutionally protected against being disciplined for saying (in a speech to a political organiation) that “White folks don’t praise you unless you’re a damn fool,” and “If you have your own mind and know what you’re doing, they [white folks] don’t want you around.”
This particular mix of results strikes me as hard to defend under the First Amendment. Those results of course could be defended by some people on the grounds that the first two statements (in those people’s view) were wrong or unjustifiable, and the third statement was right or justifiable. Such a defense, though, would not be consistent with First Amendment law, under which the constitutional rules cannot turn on whether a reviewing judge agrees with the speech at issue.
But of course I might well be missing some other sensible defense, so I hope the Committee asks Justice Graves: What is the basis for the conclusions you reached, and in particular for the conclusion that speech hostile to gays is constitutionally unprotected against judicial discipline, but speech hostile to whites is constitutionally protected? (As I’ll note below, the 2008 incident involving speech hostile to blacks might be distinguished on other grounds, which is why I primarily focus on the 2004 and 2009 incidents.)
... Will Bardwell takes issue with EV's post:
Judges Wilkerson and Boland, to whom Justice Graves ascribed no First Amendment protection, made their statements rather spontaneously and altogether outside the sphere of political campaigns. But Judge Osborne, to whose speech Justice Graves would have granted First Amendment protection, made his remarks before the Greenwood Voters League -- and, I believe, in an election year to boot."Electoral" speech by judicial candidates is protected by the First Amendment under Republican Party of Minn. v. White, so that is the relevant distinction, says Bardwell.
... And NMC joins the discussion:
I suspect Will is right that this is at least a try-out of an attack on Justice Graves’s nomination, and I agree with his rejection of the insinuating tone of Volokh’s post. But I’m not really buying that a letter to the editor about an issue of public debate is a “spontaneous” pronouncement clearly distinct from a speech at a political gathering. I don’t see how one can avoid saying they are both protected, or can say one is and one isn’t.