Montana’s chief federal judge Wednesday admitted forwarding an email to friends about President Barack Obama that appears to equate African Americans with dogs and raises questions about the president’s mixed racial ancestry.
“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,” Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull wrote before forwarding the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The email was sent from the judge’s court email account and immediately ignited a firestorm in Montana, where there were calls on social media sites for his resignation.
“We really feel that by circulating an email like this it really flies in the face of maintaining the honor and dignity of the position,” Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said in an interview. He said the organization had not yet decided on an official response to the issue.
Cebull, who has been Montana’s chief federal judge in Billings since 2008, was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush and took his seat in 2001. He is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Law and a former tribal court judge.
The Great Falls Tribune, which initially obtained the email and interviewed Cebull about it, said the judge conceded the content was racist but insisted he had forwarded it to six “old buddies” and acquaintances because he doesn’t like Obama. He said he doesn’t consider himself a racist.
“It was not intended by me in any way to become public,” Cebull told the Tribune. “I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended.”
In the email, a boy asks his mother why he is black and she is 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!’”
“The only reason I can explain to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan,” Cebull told the Tribune. “I didn’t send it as a racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.”
McAdam said the state’s code of judicial conduct, which applies to state court judges, not federal jurists, requires them to behave impartially both in and out of the courtroom.
“Somebody of that stature, a federal judge, if they want to express their dissatisfaction with the president, you would assume they would do it about policy and issues, not circulating an email that is racist and vulgar in content,” he said.
The Tribune said it received the email after it had been forwarded several times in a chain that began at its original recipients. Cebull said he was “surprised” it had been passed along with his name attached to it, the newspaper said.