[JURIST] Chief Judge John M. Roll of the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] was shot and killed when a gunman opened fire [press release] at a public constituent event held outside of a shopping center in Tucson on Saturday. The gunman additionally killed 5 others, including a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 20. Before serving in the Arizona District Court, Roll was a state judge and an assistant US attorney. Roll was named to the District Court in 1991 by President George H. W. Bush and became chief judge in 2006. In 2009, Roll received a series of death threats [Arizona Republic report] after presiding over Vicente v. Barnett [MALDEF backgrounder], a $32 million civil rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants, allowing it to move forward in the courts. In a rare public statement [press release], Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. condemned the shooting:
The violence in Arizona today has senselessly taken five lives and inflicted tragic loss on dedicated public servants and their families. We in the judiciary have suffered the terrible loss of one of our own. Chief Judge John Roll was a wise jurist who selflessly served Arizona and the nation with great distinction, as attorney and judge, for more than 35 years. I express my deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his children, as well as the other victims and their families. Chief Judge Roll’s death is a somber reminder of the importance of the rule of law and the sacrifices of those who work to secure it.
The event [press release] was hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) [official website] who was also shot, sustaining severe head injuries, and remains in critical condition. Roll was not appearing with Giffords in his official capacity [Arizona Republic report], but simply stopped by as a courtesy visit.
President Barack Obama directed that the investigation into the shooting be conducted [press releases] by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), coordinated by Director Robert Mueller. Authorities have arrested suspect Jared Lee Loughner and are searching for a possible accomplice [press release]. Due to the currently polarized political climate, many suspect that the attack was politically motivated [ABC report]. Giffords received harsh criticism in Arizona for her vote for the health care reform law [HR 3590; JURIST report] and was among those members of Congress who reported threats or vandalism in 2010. Giffords also was an outspoken critic of Arizona’s controversial immigration law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive]. Ultimately, a clear motive into the shootings has yet to be identified.