We recently discussed a federal judge who gave a public speech excoriating President Donald Trump. While we discussed how the comments of Judge Carlton Reeves would violate judicial ethical rules, no discipline has been brought for the comments. Indeed, Reeves is back in the news for his ruling to enjoin the Mississippi anti-abortion law. Taylorsville Justice Court Judge Michael Kwan received a six-month suspension for his anti-Trump comments last week.
The comments were primarily made on LinkedIn and a private Facebook account about Trump. For example, three days after Trump’s election, Kwan joked “Think I’ll go to the shelter to adopt a cat before the President-Elect grabs them all . . . .” — a reference to Trump’s infamous “Grab them by the p—-” remark. He also posted a statement in February 2017 stating “welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover” and “[W]e need to . . . be diligent in questioning Congressional Republicans if they are going to be the American Reichstag and refuse to stand up for the Constitution, refuse to uphold their oath of office and enable the tyrants to consolidate their power.”
Kwan ultimately acknowledged that the comments, while made jokingly, were violations of judicial ethics.
Notably, Kwan is unlikely to rule on matters directly linked to Trump as opposed to Reeves. One distinction is that Reeves did make a couple of comments from the bench. For example, when a defendant referenced his tax returns as a way to pay his fine, Kwan said “You do realize we have a new president and you think we are getting any money back?”
However, Kwan was suspended for comments made public and not just those from the bench. That leads to a natural question of when and why certain jurists are sanctioned while others are not for public political statements.