Judge rigged Michigan case, needs to be indicted

Wednesday, June 18, 2003 at 10:00pm

Boyce Martin should be impeached.

That's the only fitting response to the recent damning revelation that the chief judge of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals flouted court rules to ensure the court returned a ruling backing the University of Michigan in a case challenging its law school's race-conscious admissions policy.

The case, Grutter vs. James, subsequently went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices heard oral arguments in April. The high court's decision is expected by the end of this month.

Martin, a liberal appointed by Jimmy Carter, was apparently determined to stack the deck in the university's favor and send the Supreme Court a ruling that declared it is all right for schools to admit less-qualified blacks and Hispanics in the interest of diversity. So the 6th Circuit's chief judge assigned himself to the three-judge panel hearing the Michigan case though court rules dictate that assignments be made randomly.

Martin also neglected to disclose for five months that a petition had been filed to have the case reheard by the entire court. That was just long enough for two of Martin's more conservative colleagues on the 6th Circuit to take so-called "senior status," which meant they couldn't participate in the case. Had the conservatives been included, the outcome of appellate court's decision in the case almost certainly would have been different.

Martin's maneuverings "raise an inference that misconduct has occurred," according to an ethics review conducted by Judge Alice Batchelder, Martin's colleague on the 6th Circuit. The review was prompted by a complaint from the watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Martin insists that he has been falsely accused. "I'm royally shafted," he told The Associated Press. "It's like poor Sammy Sosa. I never had a corked bat before, and I don't think I had one here."

But, of course. And Martin's defenders are taking a page from Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton's playbook, claiming that the chief judge somehow is the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy, and that Batchelder, a conservative appointed by Bush Sr., is doing the right wing's dirty work. The trouble with that claim is that Batchelder appears to have gone out of her way to be lenient with Martin. Indeed, while her review found evidence of Martin's judicial misconduct, she nonetheless decided that the chief judge ought not be disciplined.

"Because this court has taken, and is taking, corrective action regarding all the issues," Batchelder concluded, that "makes additional action unnecessary."

Yet Martin maintains that Batchelder did him an injustice even though she did not go nearly as far as Judicial Watch wanted.

"The Michigan affirmative action case was fixed," stated Thomas Fitton, the watchdog group's president. "The Supreme Court now has before it a landmark case which made its way to its steps through judicial misconduct."

That's why the misconduct charges against Martin are best resolved through impeachment proceedings. Let the House of Representatives consider whether his actions in the Michigan case rise to the level that he should face a Senate impeachment trial.

Maybe, after weighing all the evidence, the House will decide there's nothing to the charges against Martin. He could return to the bench with his good name and reputation restored. Then again, maybe lawmakers will conclude that the 6th Circuit's chief judge abused the power of his position; that he tilted the scales of justice in Grutter to achieve the outcome he desired. In that case, it would be the Lower Chamber's constitutional duty to adapt articles of impeachment against Martin and the Senate's duty to remove the appellate judge from office.

Joseph Perkins is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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