Richard C. Casey
Richard Conway Casey (January 19, 1933 – March 22, 2007) was a United States federal judge for the Southern District of New York. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton on July 16, 1997 to a seat vacated by Charles S. Haight, Jr., confirmed by the Senate on October 21, and commissioned on October 24 of the same year. Judge Casey gained national prominence for his unusual personal circumstances — during his years on the bench, he was completely blind — and for his aggressive questioning during a 2004 trial considering the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. He died on March 22, 2007.
Casey was born January 1, 1933 in Ithaca, New York. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of the Holy Cross in 1955, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1958. At Georgetown, Casey was particularly influenced by prominent lawyer Edward Bennett Williams.
After law school, Casey worked as a legal investigator for the New York County District Attorney's office before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1959-1963). From 1963 to 1964, he served as counsel for the Special Commission of the State of New York where he helped prosecute public corruption cases. From 1964 until his nomination in 1997, Casey worked in private practice with the New York City law firm of Brown & Wood. He also served in the United States Army (1958 and 1961-1962) and the National Guard of New York (1958-61).
In 1964, Casey was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. His condition deteriorated into total blindness in 1987. His blindness does not seem to have slowed his career or personal ambition. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Casey expressed confidence in his ability to effectively judge the credibility of witnesses despite his loss of sight. He used a guide dog in court, and he was assisted by computers that read documents aloud.
A Catholic, Casey initially struggled with his blindness and was inspired by a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. In 1999, Casey travelled to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II and accept the Blessed Hyacinth Cormier, O.P., Medal for "outstanding leadership in the promotion of Gospel Values in the field of justice and ethics".
Casey sentenced Gambino crime family boss Peter Gotti to 25 years in prison on July 28, 2005, seven months after a federal jury found Gotti guilty of conspiring to murder government informant and former Gambino underboss Sammy Gravano. Gotti had earlier been convicted by United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York judge Frederic Block for money laundering and racketeering.
NAF v. Ashcroft
Casey presided over one of the three constitutional challenges to the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft. A coalition led by NAF argued that the statute was unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart because the Act explicitly excluded a "health exception". The Bush administration argued that the courts should defer to a congressional finding of fact that this particular abortion procedure is never medically necessary to protect the health of a mother.
Casey had granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the Act on November 6, 2003, the day after it was signed into law. The trial began on March 29, 2004 and lasted 16 days.
Casey made headlines throughout the trial by his aggressive questioning. He repeatedly asked witnesses—mostly doctors who perform abortions—about the possibility that fetuses feel pain during abortion, and whether patients are truly informed of that possibility. For example, the following is from an exchange during the redirect examination of Dr. Timothy Johnson:
THE COURT: When you describe the possibilities available to a woman do you describe in detail what the intact D&E or the partial birth abortion involves?
THE WITNESS: Since I don't do that procedure I wouldn't have described it.
THE COURT: Did you ever participate with another doctor describing it to a woman considering such an abortion?
THE WITNESS: Yes. And the description would be, I would think, descriptive of what was going to be, what was going to happen; the description.
THE COURT: Including sucking the brain out of the skull?
THE WITNESS: I don't think we would use those terms. I think we would probably use a term like 'decompression of the skull' or 'reducing the contents of the skull'.
THE COURT: Make it nice and palatable so that they wouldn't understand what it's all about?
— Exchange between Judge Richard Casey and Dr. Timothy Johnson, NAF v. Ashcroft trial transcript, pp. 514-515.
On August 26, 2004, Casey entered a judgment declaring the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional, in deference to Supreme Court precedent, but also condemning the procedure as "gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized".
The Bush administration appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment. In a related case, Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court reversed a similar Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision and upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act as constitutional, at least on a facial challenge.
- "Casey, Richard Conway". Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
- Judge in abortion trial overcomes personal obstacles in successful career from the Associated Press (April 11, 2004).
- President Nominates Richard Conway Casey to the Federal Bench, original White House press release from the National Archives (July 16, 1997).
- Casey '55 meets Holy Father and receives medal from Holy Cross Magazine (Fall 1999).
- "Mafia boss Peter Gotti sentenced to 25 years". Mail & Guardian. Agence France-Presse. July 28, 2005. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
- McFadden, Robert D.; Lueck, Thomas J. (December 23, 2004). "Peter Gotti Is Found Guilty In Murder and Racket Case". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
- Newman, Andy (April 16, 2004). "Gambino Crime Boss or Not, Peter Gotti Gets 9-Year Term". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
- National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, 330 F. Supp. 2d 436 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), from FindLaw (August 26, 2004).
- Judge Asks Doctor if Fetus Can Feel Pain, from the Associated Press (April 1, 2004).
- Partial-Birth Abortion Law Rejected by Judge, from the Washington Post (August 27, 2004).
- Courts turn aside abortion ban, from the Boston Globe (February 1, 2006).
- Richard C. Casey at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.