Richard Cebull
Montana federal judge Richard Cebull. Image: US Government/Wikimedia Commons/BY

Montana’s top federal judge has sent an apology letter to the president for an email that many saw as a racial slur against the nation’s chief executive. It is not likely he will lose his office over it, however.

‘Joke’ compares African-Americans to dogs

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull’s forwarded email — sent to six recipients — contained a “joke” insinuating that President Obama’s mother had been physically intimate with canines. And that the president himself — by virtue of his dark skin — was the product of that union.

The so-called joke read:

“A little boy said to his mother, ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

Under fire, Cebull apologizes

Cebull came under fire almost immediately after the email had been sent. In a letter to the White House, issued on Thursday, he wrote:

“I sincerely and profusely apologize to you and your family for the email I forwarded. I accept full responsibility; I have no one to blame but myself. I can assure you that such action on my part will never happen again. … Honestly, I don’t know what else I can do. Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology.”

Apology may not be sincere

Some question the sincerity of the apology, however, given the sentence preceding the “joke” in the forwarded email:

“Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.”

Heat from Representatives

Some members of Congress banded together to issue a report condemning Cebull’s actions. Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) — also chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — called for the judge’s resignation.

Likely won’t lead to resignation

According to CNN, at least one analyst believes Cebull, due to his tenure and Constitutional protections, will walk away carrying little if any punitive scars.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that, beyond a clear criminal violation, removing a federal judge from his or her seat would require impeachment proceedings. Further, he said that Cebull’s forwarded email was likely not sufficiently damning to warrant it.

Tooin said:

“The problem is there is almost no remedy for judicial misconduct except by impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate. … All that can happen is he can be embarrassed.”

Toobin added that he found Cebull’s behavior “deeply appalling.”


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