The Washington Post

Montana judge apologizes for sending racist joke about Obama and his mother

The chief federal district judge in Montana has apologized for sending others a racist joke about President Obama and his mother.

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull said he passed along the joke because it was “anti-Obama” but acknowledged that it was racist.

Cebull apologized in interviews with the Great Falls Tribune and Billings Gazette.

“There’s no doubt it’s racist,” Cebull told the Gazette. “It wasn’t forwarded for that purpose. If anything, It was political.” He added. “It’s a hard lesson to learn I apologize.” He said he is “not a fan” of Obama’s.

According to the Tribune, the subject line of the e-mail Cebull sent from his official courthouse e-mail address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

The forwarded text reads:

“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.

“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’” the e-mail joke reads. “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

Cebull said he did not write the introduction, but forwarded the e-mail to seven recipients, including his personal e-mail address. It was passed on to others, and eventually to the Tribune.

“This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part,” Cebull said. “I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I’m not that way, never have been.”

Travis McAdam, executive director for the Montana Human Rights Network, told the Tribune that the e-mail contained highly racist rhetoric unbecoming of a federal judge.

“It’s one thing if the judge is not a fan of President Barack Obama, but you would think someone in his position would articulate that in a way that criticizes his policy decisions or his position on issues,” McAdam said.

“We have a hard time believing that a legitimate criticism of the president involves distributing a joke that basically compares African Americans with animals.”

Cebull was nominated to the district bench by President George W. Bush in 2001 and has served as chief judge since 2008. Prior to that, he was a U.S. magistrate judge for the District of Montana from 1998-2001. He said he has apologized to other judges for the e-mail.

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Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.


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