The death of federal Judge John Roll is a loss of ‘one of our own,’ said Chief Justice John Roberts (Los Angeles Times). Judge Roll died in the attack Saturday morning in Tucson that left five others dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded. In 2009, Judge Roll had faced death threats after he ruled in favor of a group of illegal immigrants in a civil rights case.
On Saturday, Judge Roll had attended a daily mass at the cathedral in downtown Tucson. He had just walked up to Congresswoman Giffords at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event she was holding and shouted ‘”hi”‘ when Jared Lee Loughner approached and shot him, according to the New York Times. Loughner, was charged today with one count of attempting to kill a member of Congress, two counts of first degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. As reported in today’s New York Times, documents seized from Loughner’s house suggest that he had planned to kill Representative Giffords:
Found in Mr. Loughner’s home, F.B.I. special agent Tony M. Tayler Jr. said in an affidavit supporting the charges, was an envelope with the handwritten words, “I planned ahead,” “My assassination,” and “Giffords.”
The chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski, described Judge Roll as a ‘tireless advocate for his district’ and ‘”the hardest working.”‘ As to why Judge Roll went to Congresswoman’s ‘Congress in the Streets’ events at a Tucson shopping mall on Saturday, Judge Kozinski speculated that he had gone to thank her for a letter regarding the increased workload that the Ninth Circuit was facing:
Judge Kozinski speculated — “just a guess,” he said — that Judge Roll might have gone to the event on Saturday to thank Ms. Giffords for the letter. “And he gets killed for it.”
Judge Kozinski added, “If it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us.”
It is rare for federal judges to be killed, according to the New York Times which cited the killing of Judge Robert Vance in 1989, who died when a mail bomb that had been to his home in Mountain Brook, Alabama, detonated.
Judge Roll had faced death threats in 2009 after presiding over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico against a rancher. The rancher stopped them at gunpoint as they crossed his land and turned them over to the Border Patrol. Judge Roll ruled that the civil rights case could go forward. Afterwards, as noted in the January 9th Arizona Republic, talk-radio shows ‘cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats,’ with one radio host logging more than 200 phone calls threatening the judge and his family; details of his personal information were posted online. Judge Roll and his wife were provided protection by the Federal Marshals Service in 2009.
Sseveral of those who were making the threats were identified, but Judge Roll declined to press charges. As he told the Arizona Republic,
“I have a very strong belief that there is nothing wrong with criticizing a judicial decision. But when it comes to threats, that is an entirely different matter.”
President Obama praised Judge Roll for having ‘“..served America’s legal system for almost 40 years.’ Judge Roll was appointed to the judiciary under the first President Bush in 1991. He became Chief Judge in 2006.
Judge Roll was born in Pittsburgh in 1947. He is survived by his wife, three sons, and five grandchildren.
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