John E. Jones III
|John E. Jones III|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania|
July 30, 2002
|Appointed by||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||James McClure|
|Born||June 13, 1955|
|Alma mater||Dickinson School of Law|
John Edward Jones III (born June 13, 1955) is an American lawyer and jurist from the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. A Republican, Jones was appointed by President George W. Bush as federal judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in February 2002 and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on July 30, 2002. He is best known for his presiding role in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, in which the teaching of "intelligent design" in public school science classes was ruled to be unconstitutional. In 2014 he ruled that Pennsylvania's 1996 ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
Early life, education, and law career
Jones was born in 1955 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania and raised in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, where he attended Blue Mountain High School. He graduated high school from Mercersburg Academy. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Dickinson College in 1977 and law degree from Dickinson School of Law in 1980. At that time, the school was unaffiliated with Pennsylvania State University.
After clerking for Guy A. Bowe, the president-county judge for Schuylkill County from 1980 to 1983, Jones joined the law firm of Dolbin & Cori. When he was made a partner, the name of the firm was changed to Dolbin, Cori & Jones.
In 1986, Judge Jones began his own private practice, John Jones & Associates. He spent the next years as a trial lawyer. He also served as solicitor for several municipalities, including his hometown of Pottsville, and was a part-time assistant Schuylkill County public defender until 1995. From around 1992 until his appointment to the federal bench, Jones served as counsel to the Reading firm of Roland & Schlegel.
In 1992, Jones unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives for the Sixth Congressional District seat and then was co-chair of the transition team for Governor-elect Tom Ridge.
Jones was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board from 1995 to 2002, a period marked by some controversy. He was part of a failed attempt to privatize state stores, and he banned Bad Frog Beer after determining that its label (a frog giving the finger) was in bad taste. He briefly considered running for Governor in 2001.
Jones was appointed to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania by President George W. Bush in February 2002. He was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 30 and was commissioned on August 2. Before the Kitzmiller decision, he was rumored to be among the top choices for nomination to the US Supreme Court.
Kitzmiller v. Dover
Jones was assigned to the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District bench trial, the first direct challenge brought in the federal courts against a school district that mandated the teaching of intelligent design. He was praised by Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania Governor and former head of the Department of Homeland Security, who said that "I can't imagine a better judge presiding over such an emotionally charged issue... he has an inquisitive mind, a penetrating intellect and an incredible sense of humor."
On December 20, 2005, Jones ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional in a 139-page decision.
After the ruling was handed down, some pundits immediately attacked it, notably Bill O'Reilly on Fox News accusing Jones of being a fascist and an activist judge. Casey Luskin and Jonathan Witt of the Discovery Institute, and activist Phyllis Schlafly, have leveled similar charges. Jones also received death threats as a result of which he and his family were given around-the-clock federal protection.
In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League on February 10, 2006 he responded to critics who claimed that he had "stabbed the evangelicals who got him onto the federal bench right in the back" by noting that his duty was to the Constitution and not to special interest groups.
In a November 2006 talk given at Bennington College, Jones again rejected the "activist judge" criticisms and explained the judiciary role and how judges decide cases:
If you look at public polls in the United States, at any given time a significant percentage of Americans believe that it is acceptable to teach creationism in public high schools. And that gives rise to an assumption on the part of the public that judges should 'get with the program' and make decisions according to the popular will.
There's a problem with that....The framers of the Constitution, in their almost infinite wisdom, designed the legislative and executive branches under Articles I and II to be directly responsive to the public will. They designed the judiciary, under Article III, to be responsive not to the public will--in effect to be a bulwark against public will at any given time--but to be responsible to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
That distinction, just like the role of precedent, tends to be lost in the analysis of judges' decisions, including my decision.
In 2008, Judge Jones was awarded the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Religious Liberty Award at the World Humanist Congress in Washington, DC. In his acceptance speech, Judge Jones explained how he was blasted by Bill O'Reilly, Phyllis Schlafly, and Ann Coulter for the Kitzmiller decision. Judge Jones also remarked on the shortcomings of civics education and how the American public tends to have a limited understanding of the Constitution and the importance of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and separation of church and state established by the Founding Fathers of the United States. Judge Jones gave his perspective on the separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution: "Articles 1 and 2 designate the legislative branch and the executive branch, respectively, as majoritarian—they are subject to the will of the people; they stand in popular elections. But article 3 is counter-majoritarian. The judicial branch protects against the tyranny of the majority. We are a bulwark against public opinion. And that was very much done with a purpose, and I think that it really has withstood the test of time. The judiciary is a check against the unconstitutional abuse and extension of power by the other branches of government." Judge Jones added that Alexander Hamilton himself remarked: “Enthusiasm is certainly a very good thing but religious enthusiasm is, at least, a dangerous instrument."
Bair v. Shippensburg
In 2003, Jones heard the case of Shippensburg University students Walt Bair and Ellen Wray who sued the school in an effort to stop enforcing a speech code. The speech code banned all "acts of intolerance" including racist, sexist and homophobic speech. In a major victory for academic freedom, Jones ruled against the University explaining that while the code was well intentioned, it went too far in regulating speech. Jones issued an order that prohibited Shippensburg from enforcing four (4) provisions of the Student Code of Conduct. Jones found that the government may not prohibit speech based solely on the impact it will have on the listener.
Whitewood v. Wolf
In 2014, Jones presided over Deb Whitewood et al. v. Michael Wolf, a case in which the plaintiffs sought relief from Pennsylvania's Marriage Laws (23 Pa. C.S. § 1102). He delivered an opinion striking down the Pennsylvania statute barring same-sex marriage on May 20, 2014, on grounds that it unconstitutionally infringed the plaintiffs rights of due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He did not attach a stay to his order, so the decision would be immediately effective.
Jones is a Lutheran of Welsh descent. He married his wife, Beth Ann, in 1982. They have two children: a daughter, Meghan, and son John. He has 3 brothers David, Jeff and Jim. He has a share in a business operated by others in his family, Distinct Golf, which runs five golf courses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Awards, positions, and honors
- Member of the Raven's Claw Honorary Society at Dickinson College
- Former board member and president-elect of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (resigned when appointed to federal bench).
- Distinguished Alumnus Award, Dickinson School of Law
- Welsh Citizen of the Year Award, St. David's Society of Schuylkill and Carbon Counties.
- Former assistant Scoutmaster and other positions in the Boy Scouts of America
- 2006, included in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of the Year.
- 2007, honorary doctorate, Muhlenberg College.
- Board of Trustees, Dickinson College
- Board of Directors, Federal Judges Association
- Board of Directors, Justice at Stake
- 2008, American Humanist Association Humanist Religious Liberty Award.
- 2009, President's Medal, Geological Society of America.
- Bad Frog Beer to 'intelligent design', Amy Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer October 16, 2005.
- "Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District Ruling" (PDF). December 20, 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 21, 2005. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
- False judge makes mockery of case for 'intelligent design' Phyllis Schlafly Townhall.com January 2, 2006
- Dan Margolies (November 19, 2007). "Decision on murder case holds up". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2008-03-23.[dead link]
- Speech by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to the Anti-Defamation League
- The Myth of "Activist Judges", an excerpt from remarks made on Nov. 26, 2006, hy Federal Judge John E. Jones at Bennington College's Ruth D. Ewing Lecture in Social Activism
- Judge John E. Jones III, Inexorably toward Trial: Reflections on the Dover Case and the “Least Dangerous Branch,” The Humanist, January/February 2009. .
- Pa. judge known for 'intelligent design' case now a Dickinson College trustee, May 7, 2008
- 100 Most Influential People of the Year, Time
- Muhlenberg College Announces Honorary Degree Recipients
- GSA press release - GSA 09-46: Judge Jones receives President's Medal, speaks at Darwin Day
- John E. Jones III biography via United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
- John E. Jones biography at Judgepedia
- Judge Jones' commencement address at Dickinson College, May 21, 2006
- Honorary degree citation for Judge Jones by Dickinson College, May 21, 2006
- Judge Jones on Judicial Independence From a speech given by Jones to the Anti-Defamation League's National Executive Committee Meeting, February 10, 2006
- Judge John E. Jones at Procapitalism U.S.A.
- Written opinion of the United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School (PDF format from Findlaw)
- Written opinion of the United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School (HTML format from TalkOrigins)
- Radio interview of Judge Jones
- John Jones: The Judge Who Ruled for Darwin Time magazine's "TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World"
- Video of Judge Jones on Judicial Independence - Difficult Dialogues series September 26, 2006.
- Video of Judge Jones at the School of Law - Year of Darwin Series - Case Western Reserve University on YouTube September 25, 2008.
- Decision in Whitewood v. Wolf