Nebraska judge says it's time for Supreme Court to 'shut up'

2014-07-07T16:50:00Z 2014-07-23T14:23:06Z Nebraska judge says it's time for Supreme Court to 'shut up'By LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A federal judge who got national attention last year for telling Congress where to go in his blog has made waves again by offering unsolicited advice to the U.S. Supreme Court on the heels of its controversial Hobby Lobby decision.

"As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu," Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf wrote in his blog, Hercules and the Umpire.

For those unclear on the acronym, he linked it to the Urban Dictionary, which defined it as "shut the **** up."

Kopf, of Lincoln, is semi-retired, taking cases assigned him. Like all federal judges, he was appointed to a life term and does not have to worry about public retention votes like state judges do.

In his Saturday post titled "Remembering Alexander Bickel's passive virtues and the Hobby Lobby cases," Kopf wrote that the Supreme Court's next term is time for it to go "quiescent."

In other words, not act.

"This term and several past terms has proven that the court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the court has the power to avoid," he wrote.

Kopf said the Hobby Lobby case illustrated why the court should not decide highly controversial cases and ought to care more about avoiding disputes. What would have happened, he asked, if the Supreme Court simply had decided not to take the cases?

"Had the court sat on the sidelines, I don't think any significant harm would have occurred," he wrote.

Most likely, Kopf said, the political branches of government would have worked something out. Or not.

As it is, five justices -- all male, Catholic and appointed by Republican presidents -- decided that a huge corporation is a "person" and thus entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, he said.

"To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse," Kopf wrote.

The decision, he wrote, looks stupid because corporations are not persons, "all the legal mumbo jumbo notwithstanding," and the court looks misogynist, partisan and religiously motivated.

He said he wasn't saying the justices were, in fact, motivated by such things, but while "looks" don't matter to the logic of the law they do to the public's acceptance of the law.

The blog itself is unusual for a federal judge.

In it, Kopf has posted everything from videos of his grandkids to opinions on various court cases. He once told Congress to "go to hell" for allowing a brief federal government shutdown last year. Another time he called himself a "dirty old man" while weighing in on how young women attorneys dress.

By mid-afternoon Monday, the Hobby Lobby post had racked up more than 100 comments. Among them was one by Chief U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp, who called Kopf's post insightful and said there is "no doubt that factors such as our sex, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, and early upbringing affect our core beliefs."

Keep blogging, she wrote.

He said he would. But a post later in the day threw that into question and prompted a follow-up post titled "Please stop," in which a Nebraska lawyer argued that blogging by judges harms, not helps, the system.

The writer, whose name was taken off the letter in the post, asked how the attention and reaction to Kopf's posts help people trust judges, foster faith in the system or advance the cause of the delivery of justice.

"Are not the ultimate purposes of our profession better served by lawyers and judges acting with courtesy, grace, respect, and restraint? Whatever public benefit may come from public discussion of controversial topics, are there not more appropriate ways, far less harmful to the justice system, for those discussions to be initiated rather than through a judge’s controversial public comments?"

Kopf wrote that he would give the letter serious consideration because it came from someone he respected and whose judgment he trusted.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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