By Albert Lin
A judge has withdrawn his name from consideration for a post on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after admitting that he forwarded a racist email—but he claims the email had nothing to do with his decision.
Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler, who has worn a robe for 17 years, said in a statement:
“Since November, when I first offered to serve the Commonwealth on the highest court in Pennsylvania, several circumstances have developed here, at home, in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system, and require my full attention. I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty.”
In an interview with the Centre Daily Times, Kistler mentioned only the retirement of a longtime court administrator and his duty to oversee the hiring of her successor. He also said some local residents had asked him not to go. He would not elaborate further on the “circumstances” that require his attention, saying, “Since I put my name out there for nomination, things have changed, and the more things changed, the less comfortable I was leaving.”
Left unsaid was the possibility that he would not have been confirmed—or at least would have had to undergo a grueling confirmation—had he moved forward with the process.
“It really had nothing to do with the email,” he insisted, “but [with] how I could best serve and I know I can best serve in Centre County.”
Kistler’s primary legislative sponsor, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, told PennLive.com that in a conversation on Sunday night, Kistler also did not bring up the email as a reason for his withdrawal.
Last week, the Centre Daily Times reported on an email from December 2013 of a mock greeting card, featuring a Black couple on either side of a glass partition in a prison and the title “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.” Kistler had forwarded the email to 22 people with the message “Touching and heartwarming, Merry Christmas to ALL! JK”
Kistler told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday night that he did not recall sending the email, but on Friday he confirmed to the CDT that he had in fact forwarded it. “There was absolutely no ill intent,” he said. “It was a comment about how lightly people take being incarcerated.”
He strongly denied any racist intent.
“I am proud of the reputation that this whole court has for complete fairness to everyone who comes to this building,” he said. “There is not one person in this building who has a racial tone to them. The last thing I would do would be to express some racial bias and send it to 20 friends.”
State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, who is Black, told PennLive.com that Kistler should resign his seat because the email raises questions about his objectivity.