Last Thursday, Judge Richard G. Kopf of the United States District Court, District of Nebraska, announced he would cease blogging at “Hercules and the umpire,” the personal — and popular — blog he had maintained for over two years. Though Kopf (rightly) took heat for his weird “I’m a dirty old man so let me talk about how women lawyers dress” post and his defense of the poorly-behaved Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt, the straw that broke the law blogging world’s back seemed to be when he called Senator Ted Cruz unfit to become president.
Orin Kerr over at the Washington Post picked that up and ran with it, saying that Kopf may have violated Canon 5 of the Code for Federal Judges,1 which prohibits a judge from endorsing or opposing a political candidate. Kopf initially took umbrage at the suggestion, but later agreed that Kerr was right. A few days later, on a staff retreat, the bulk of the employees of the Court said they found the blog an embarrassment, and that was that. Kopf announced that he was shutting the blog down.
There is nothing more important to me than the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. If I have lost the confidence of our employees through publishing the blog, then I have harmed the Court. I cannot tolerate that thought, and I have therefore decided to pull the plug. My decision is irrevocable.
The entire affair has led to far more attention than the blawg world ever gets, with some particularly breathless coverage in Nebraska’s local media market. Kerr has not yet weighed in on Kopf’s decision to stop blogging entirely, but it seems almost impossible for him to avoid discussing the decision at some point.
One of the more interesting post-mortems of l’affaire Hercules came from Steve Klepper over at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Litigation Section blog. Klepper writes that more judges should blog, and offered to publish an appellate-focused post at the MSBA’s blog if a Maryland judge wished to write one. Klepper went on to point out, however, that the greatest risk of blogging is the immediacy of the format and that judges may have a particular problem with a medium that encourages a lack of filter. Whether that is a correct assessment of blogging or not, I am in agreement that the blogosphere — and the blawgosphere — can be enhanced by the participation of more members of the judiciary.