Edward Earl Carnes

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Edward Carnes
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Assumed office
October 26, 2013
Preceded by Joel Dubina
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Assumed office
September 10, 1992
Appointed by George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Frank Johnson
Personal details
Born (1950-06-03) June 3, 1950 (age 71)
Albertville, Alabama, U.S.
Alma mater University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
Harvard University

Edward Earl Carnes (born June 3, 1950) is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.


Carnes received his B.S. from the University of Alabama in 1972. He received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1975. After law school, he accepted a position as an assistant state attorney general for the state of Alabama, where he served from 1975 to 1992.

From 1981 to 1992 he served as the Chief of the Capital Punishment and Post-Conviction Litigation Division of the Alabama State Attorney General's Office. As the head of Alabama capital punishment unit, Carnes became, according to the National Law Journal, "the premier death penalty advocate in the country and a chief adviser on capital punishment to judges, the U.S. Justice Department and other prosecutors."[1] Carnes re-wrote Alabama's death penalty statute,[2] and defended its use before the Supreme Court of the United States on three occasions, including Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625.

His ascendancy to the bench created a hole in the capital punishment unit, leading an Alabama appellate judge to lament that the state had lost a "very effective voice in support of executions in this state."[3]

Nomination and confirmation

Carnes was nominated by George H. W. Bush on January 27, 1992 for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to a seat vacated by Frank Minis Johnson. To Carnes' opponents, he was a poor choice to succeed Judge Johnson, a hero of the civil rights movement who had declared that the segregated buses of Montgomery, Alabama were illegal.[4] Some compared replacing Johnson with Carnes to Bush's earlier decision to replace Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. Nonetheless, his nomination might have sailed through the Senate if not for the Rodney King incident, which encouraged Senate Democrats to use Carnes' nomination as a chance to stump against racism in the criminal justice system.[2]

Critics blasted Carnes for defending Alabama prosecutors accused of systematically excluding blacks from death penalty trial juries.[5] Carnes' supporters responded that as a prosecutor, Carnes had engaged in a campaign to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection even before the Supreme Court had become involved in the issue.[6] They noted that when selected by the judges of the state to prosecute judicial misconduct, Carnes had sought sanctions against sixteen sitting judges, including two who were removed from the bench for racist remarks.[7] He also sought a venue change to a county with a higher black population for the retrial of a twice-convicted black defendant accused of brutally murdering a white victim.[7]

Prominent southern civil rights lawyers were split over the nomination. Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, testified against the nomination and lambasted the Senate's decision to confirm Carnes to the bench.[8] But Morris Dees, cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Carnes' frequent adversary, went door-to-door among Senate Democrats, fighting on behalf of Carnes.[9] Both (Democratic) Senators from Alabama supported his nomination, as did the attorneys general of each of the states comprising the Eleventh Circuit.[10]

After eight months and a Democratic filibuster, Carnes was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 9, 1992 by a vote of 62 for and 36 against.[11] He received his commission the following day.

Writing style

Judge Carnes has a folksy yet precise writing style, often engaging in wordplay and the use of literary allusions. He has been described as "one of the more talented writers on the federal appellate bench."[12]

Carnes' wry humor sometimes earns comparisons to Judge Alex Kozinski on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[13] Another comparison has been to former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who, like Carnes, regularly used allusions and metaphors, often to justify deference to the legislature.

Judge Carnes occasionally gives speeches on effective writing and on metaphors in the law, including to Harvard Law School 1L students on April 5, 2013, Emory Law School students on November 2, 2011, University of Georgia Law School 1L students on January 28, 2010, and University of Alabama School of Law 1L students in 2015.


  1. "Judge Blasts High Court on Death Penalty Appeals," Mobile Register, May 19, 1994.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Richard Lacayo, "To the Bench Via the Chair: A Major Confirmation Fight is Brewing Over the Replacement of a Federal Judge Who Was a Civil Rights Hero," Time, Sept. 14, 1992.
  3. "Newsmakers: Edward E. Carnes," The National Law Journal, Dec. 28, 1994.
  4. "A Legacy Dishonored," San Jose Mercury News, Sept. 15, 1992.
  5. "1992: Year of Unexpected," Mobile Register, Dec. 27, 1992.
  6. "Victory Over Smears," Memphis Commercial Appeal, Sept. 15, 1992.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Id.
  8. David Pace, "Senate's Approval of Judge Attacked: Civil Rights Groups Criticize Edward Carnes After Confirmation Vote," Akron Beacon Journal, Sept. 10, 1992.
  9. Dick Lehr, "For Crusaders Against Klan, a New Cause: Teaching Tolerance," Boston Globe, Jan. 19, 1993.
  10. Neil A. Lewis, “Senate Accepts Carnes; A Judicial Confirmation Continues Tilt to the Right,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 1992.
  11. "Roll Call," Baltimore Sun, Sept. 13, 1992.
  12. See http://howappealing.law.com/0207.html
  13. "http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=The%20Ten%20Commandments%20Judge; Judge Blasts High Court on Death Penalty Appeals," Mobile Register, May 19, 1994.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Frank Johnson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Preceded by
Joel Dubina
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit