Federal Judge Among The Dead In Ariz. Shooting

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Federal Judge John Roll was among six people killed in a shooting at a public political gathering Saturday at a supermarket parking lot. Roll presided over some key immigration cases, including one in which undocumented immigrants filed a civil lawsuit against an Arizona rancher.


Federal Judge John Roll was among those killed in yesterday's shooting in Tucson. Roll was the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Arizona. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts called Roll a wise jurist who selflessly served Arizona, and the nation, with great distinction.

NPR's Brian Naylor has this profile.

BRIAN NAYLOR: John McCarthy Roll was born in Pittsburgh in 1947. He was appointed to the federal bench by the first President Bush, in 1991. Before that, he had been a U.S. attorney and a state court judge. Former Republican congressman Jim Kolbe, who preceded Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona's 8th Congressional District, also knew Judge Roll. In fact, he was there when he was sworn in.

Former Representative JIM KOLBE (Republican, Arizona): He was one of the most likeable people I've known. He was, I think, a very fair-minded judge. I never appeared before him or watched him in action, but he had a tremendous reputation with attorneys in Tucson as being a very fair-minded and very thoughtful judge, and one who really knew the law.

NAYLOR: Kolbe says Roll was active in the Boys Club, and that he'll be missed in the community. University of Arizona Law professor Andy Silverman remembers Roll as conscientious.

Professor ANDY SILVERMAN (Law, University of Arizona): He was low-key, hard-working, you know, conscientious. He was conservative. You know, I don't remember him ever being politically involved, even before he was on the bench.

NAYLOR: Roll presided over a fair number of controversial cases. In 1994, he struck down a part of the Brady Law that required local police to conduct background checks of gun buyers. Roll was involved in a case in 2009 that had prompted death threats against him. It was a $32 million civil rights suit filed against an Arizona rancher by a group of illegal immigrants. When Roll ruled the case could proceed, he received more than 200 phone calls - some threatening the judge and his family. The U.S. Marshals Office had provided security at the time.

Roll became chief judge of the Arizona district in 2006. He'd spoken out on the need for more judges to hear Arizona's many drug and immigration cases. Silverman says they made up the bulk of Roll's case load.

Mr. SILVERMAN: He tried - particularly - a lot of criminal cases, which dominates the type of cases that we have in this district.

NAYLOR: Roll was also involved in Operation Streamline, a controversial program that brings expedited criminal charges against even first-time illegal immigrants. Roll told NPR last year that his court didn't make the policy, but carried out the wishes of the Congress and the executive branch.

Mr. JOHN ROLL (U.S. District Court Judge): We tried to - in Arizona - to make certain that rights aren't violated or trampled by this. And streamlined isn't the same as assembly line justice. It means that - it just means that there are a large number of cases at that particular level, that are analyzed and heard each day.

NAYLOR: Judge Roll is survived by his wife and three children.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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