The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit suspended Circuit Judge Pauline Newman from her duties as a judge for one year on Wednesday after she refused to undergo medical evaluations to measure her ability to perform as a judge.
Earlier this year, Chief Judge Kimberly A. Moore ruled that in regard to Newman, who is 96, “there is probable cause to believe that Judge Newman’s health has left her without the capacity to perform the work of an active judge and that her habitual delays are prejudicial to the efficient administration of justice.” Specifically, Moore cited multiple cases that Newman was assigned to which were left pending for 300 to 600 days each. Additionally, once Newman’s cases were reassigned, case resolution occurred in a few days, weeks, or up to a month later.
In April, Moore and two other judges ordered Newman to participate in medical tests, stemming from an expert’s recommendation that these tests would help the panel determine if Newman faced a medical condition that impacted her judicial performance. However, Newman refused to respond to this panel’s request.
Newman’s counsel, the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), alleges that Moore’s suspension of Newman violates Article 3 Section 1 of the US Constitution, which states that judges will retain their position on the bench in times of good behavior. Further, Newman claims Moore violated her Fifth Amendment due process right by removing her prior to an investigation into her health. At the beginning of September, a forensic psychiatrist cleared Newman, with the NCLA releasing a video interview to support Newman’s mental fitness.
The NCLA stated, “Two independent medical providers have now evaluated Judge Newman and found her competent to serve as a federal judge. People who have read Judge Newman’s opinions have reached the same conclusion.” Yet, the final opinion of the Federal Circuit states Newman engaged in “serious misconduct” by refusing to comply with a May order by the court to undergo an interview and medical evaluations, as well as to provide medical records to the court.
Newman’s suspension comes amidst growing calls for term limits for aging judges and members of Congress. Recently, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California prompted concerns about their health, causing some to question if they were fit to serve in Congress.