Texas Judge John Lipscombe Shuts Down Courtroom In Protest Of Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation

Lipscombe draped black funeral bunting over the doors to his courtroom.

A gavel rests on a pile of paperwork.
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Lipscombe draped black funeral bunting over the doors to his courtroom.

A Texas judge is facing harsh criticism for closing down his courtroom for a day to protest Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, The Austin American-Statesman is reporting.

Travis County Judge John Lipscombe presides over misdemeanor criminal cases in Austin and the surrounding region. Except on October 8, 2018, that is. That’s the Monday after Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, was confirmed by the Senate after a contentious series of hearings that included allegations of sexual assault.

Austin defense lawyer Sidney Williams said that on that Monday morning, he woke up to a text message from Lipscombe saying that there would be no cases heard in his (Lipscombe’s) courtroom that day — in protest of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In his text, Lipscombe said that he was doing so to honor “survivors,” apparently referring to survivors of sexual abuse. One of Kavanaugh’s accusers claimed that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh decades ago.

“I think maybe he was trying to make a statement while balancing any kind of collateral consequences it might have with the regular flow of the docket.”

Lipscombe had also apparently draped black funeral bunting over the doors to his closed courtroom.

Lipscombe’s protest, to say the very least, inconvenienced the hundred or so defendants who were due to be seen that day. Though their cases were rescheduled for a later date, many defendants had taken the day off work — or had arranged for child care — so that they could appear in court. Others — who might possibly have been released from jail that day — got to spend more time behind bars due to Lipscombe’s protest.

There was also a cost to taxpayers. By fellow Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s estimation, it costs $58,000 to run a busy urban courtroom for a day. Taxpayers are on the hook for that money, says Eckhardt.

“We are public servants, and I believe the best way to protest for public service at the federal level is to provide exemplary public service at the local level. I don’t believe Judge Lipscombe’s choice meets that standard.”

Lipscombe, for his part, has refused repeated requests for comment from the media.

Lawyer Mark Sampson said that he’s no fan of Kavanaugh, but that he also didn’t think it right of Lipscombe to close the court in protest.

“I’m against Kavanaugh too, but I just don’t get the connection to closing a courtroom.”

According to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, there’s no language about judges using their courtrooms as a venue for political protests. Eric Vinson, executive director for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, declined to comment on Lipscombe’s protest.