HOUSTON (CN) – A federal judge faces calls to resign after speaking about “why Adolf Hitler used the swastika” when discussing the race of a Hindu man suing for discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, 71, was appointed to the bench in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based nonprofit that does pro bono legal work for low-income people, asked Hughes to resign over comments he made during a hearing for a state employee’s discrimination lawsuit.
Jitendra “J.T.” Shah sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice this past July, claiming it discriminated against him by laying him off from his engineer job.
Hughes’ controversial comments surfaced after Shah moved Friday to have Hughes recuse himself.
Citing a court transcript, Shah said Hughes made the comments during a pre-trial hearing with the state’s attorney that neither he, nor his attorney, attended.
As lawyers for the state argued that the case is about “money,” rather than about race or religion, Hughes asked what race Shah is.
The lawyers responded that Shah identified both his race and religion as Hindu.
Hughes then asked: “All right. So he’s Caucasian?”
Assistant Attorney General of Texas Allan Cook replied: “No. He’s Indian.”
Hughes: “They’re Causcausian. … That’s where we came from. … That’s why Adolph Hitler used the swastika. … It was a symbol of good luck.”
Later in the hearing, Cook said about Shah: “And your Honor, nobody says he’s not a good person. C.F. Hazelwood will testify that he’s a perfectly nice fellow. He didn’t want to let him go, had to do it.”
Hughes replied: “The fact that he’s the only Indian there is a fact in the department’s favor. It would be real easy not to hire the first Indian.”
In his recusal motion, Shah called Hughes’ comments “reprehensible.” “First, Judge Hughes’ gratuitous, uncritical reference to ‘Adolf Hitler’ and the ‘swastika’ – the architect and the symbol, respectively, of the Holocaust, the most heinous act of ethnic and religious mass murder in human history – are beyond the pale in a case of race and national origin discrimination and would lead any reasonable person to believe that Judge Hughes is, at a minimum, insensitive to victims of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination,” the motion states.
“Second, in context, Judge Hughes’ statement that Indians are ‘Caucasian,’ and not a distinct racial minority, would cause a reasonable person to believe that Judge Hughes would not comply with the prevailing law that Indians are a protected class under” federal law.
Shah is represented by Conroe, Texas, attorney Jo Miller.
The head of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Houston office Amin Aleshashem told the Houston Chronicle he learned about Hughes’ comments from a post on the legal blog Above the Law.
The nonprofit filed a formal complaint against Hughes with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, citing his comments in three cases that allegedly show “a pattern and practice of bias and prejudice against alleged victims of discrimination,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
“Regardless of what happens with our complaint, if the only thing that comes from this is some publicity, that will be a good start toward eradicating such remarks in the future from judges, who have such incredible power to affect so many people’s lives,” Alehashem told the Chronicle. “Judges have such incredible discretion from the bench. It is troubling to see him almost advocating the defense’s side and discrediting any sort of counter argument from the other side that is based on national origin and religion and those sorts of things.”
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