Judge Carlton Reeves is a Mississippi federal judge who compared President Donald Trump’s attacks on the judiciary to tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan during the Jim Crow era while accepting an award at the University of Virginia.
Reeves, who is African-American, hit out at Trump’s tweets railing against federal courts and judges while accepting the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law award from his alma mater.
“When politicians attack courts as ‘dangerous,’ ‘political,’ and guilty of ‘egregious overreach,’ you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South. When leaders chastise people for merely ‘using the courts,’ you can hear the Citizens Council, hammering up the names of black petitioners in Yazoo City,” Reeves said Thursday.
“When lawmakers say ‘we should get rid of judges,’ you can hear segregationist Senators, writing bills to strip courts of their power,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Carlton Reeves Has Ruled on Some of the Biggest Cases in Mississppi
Reeves was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law from the University of Virginia School of Law, which he graduated in 1989, The Clarion-Ledger reported. Past winners include special counsel Bob Mueller, and US Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia.
Reeves has ruled on some of the biggest cases in the state, including his November 2018 decision striking down the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks.
He also blocked a House bill in 2016 protecting religious objections to same-sex marriage while it was being appealed.
He also ruled to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to have Mississippi’s state flag declared unconstitutional because it includes the Stars and Bars emblem of the Confederacy.
In a highly publicized 2015 case, Reeves gave an impassioned speech as he sentenced three young white men to prison in the murder of James Craig Anderson, a 48-year-old black man, while yelling “white power.”
“In the name of White Power, these young folk went to ‘Jafrica’ to “f–k with some ni–ers!” — echoes of Mississippi’s past. White Power! Ni–er!” he said in a lengthy speech. “In the Mississippi we have tried to bury, when there was a jury verdict for those who perpetrated crimes and committed lynchings in the name of White Power … that verdict typically said that the victim died at the hands of persons unknown. The legal and criminal justice system operated with ruthless efficiency in upholding what these defendants would call White Power.”
“Today we take another step away from Mississippi’s tortured past,” he added. “Having learned from Mississippi’s inglorious past, these officials know that in advancing the rule of law, the criminal justice system must operate without regard to race, creed or color. This is the strongest way Mississippi can reject those notions — those ideas which brought us here today.”
2. Reeves Was Appointed by President Obama
Reeves was nominated to the Southern District of Mississippi by President Obama. He has served on the bench since December 2010.
Reeves replaced longtime federal Judge William Henry Barbour Jr. As a teenager, Reeves cleaned Barbour’s courthouse office, NPR reported.
Reeves was the in the first class to attend integrated public schools in the state and the first person in his family to attend a four-year college, NPR added. He graduated from Jackson State University before earning his law degree at the University of Virginia, which at the time was 85 percent white.
3. Reeves Slammed Trump’s Tweets Attacking Federal Courts & Judges
Reeves used his Thursday speech to hit back at Trump’s attacks on federal courts and judges. Trump has repeatedly criticized the judiciary, which has frequently ruled against his administration.
“One of the things I appreciate about universities is that we can engage in difficult conversations in more than 280 characters,” Reeves said.
After speaking at length about Mississippi’s long history of racism toward African-Americans, Reeves drew a comparison between segregationists and the president.
“When lawmakers say ‘we should get rid of judges,’ you can hear segregationist Senators, writing bills to strip courts of their power. And when the Executive Branch calls our courts and their work ‘stupid,’ ‘horrible,’ ‘ridiculous.’ ‘incompetent,’ ‘a laughingstock,’ and a ‘complete and total disgrace,’ you can hear the slurs and threats of executives like George Wallace, echoing into the present,” he said.
4. Reeves Compared Trump’s Attacks to KKK Tactics
Reeves also compared Trump’s attacks on judges to tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan.
“When politicians attack courts as ‘dangerous,’ ‘political,’ and guilty of ‘egregious overreach,’ you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South. When leaders chastise people for merely ‘using the courts,’ you can hear the Citizens Council, hammering up the names of black petitioners in Yazoo City,” Reeves said.
“When the powerful accuse courts of ‘opening up our country to potential terrorists,’ you can hear the Southern Manifesto’s authors, smearing the judiciary for simply upholding the rights of black folk,” he said.
“I know what I heard when a federal judge was called ‘very biased and unfair’ because he is ‘of Mexican heritage.’ When that judge’s ethnicity was said to prevent his issuing ‘fair rulings.’ When that judge was called a ‘hater’ simply because he is Latino. I heard the words of James Eastland, a race-baiting politician, empowered by the falsehood of white supremacy, questioning the judicial temperament of a man solely because of the color of his skin. I heard those words and I did not know if it was 1967 or 2017.”
5. Reeves Assailed Trump Over the Lack of Diversity Among His Judicial Nominees
Reeves also took issue with the fact that 90 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees have been white.
“This attack is heard loudest in the slander of Judge Curiel. But it will be felt through this Administration’s judicial nominations, especially those confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate,” he said. “Of the Article III judges confirmed under the current Administration, 90% have been white. Just one of those judges is black. Just two are Hispanic.”
“It’s not just about racial diversity,” he continued. “Barely 25% of this Administration’s confirmed judges are women. None have been black or Latina. Achieving complete gender equality on the federal bench would require us to confirm only 23 women a year. How hard could that be?”
“Think,” he added. “in a country where they make up just 30% of the population, non-Hispanic white men make up nearly 70% of this Administration’s confirmed judicial appointees. That’s not what America looks like. That’s not even what the legal profession looks like.”