Judge John Roll, 63, served Arizona for nearly 40 years
John M. Roll, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Arizona, died of gunshot wounds Saturday in an attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent meeting in Casas Adobes in Northwest Tucson, after giving a lifetime of service to Arizona as a district attorney and judge. He was 63.
Five others were killed in the shooting, and at least 13 were wounded, including Giffords.
Roll stopped by the meet and greet event, which was taking place near his house, to visit with the congresswoman, said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
Judge Roll, who as a boy moved from Pittsburgh to Arizona, graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969 with a B.A., and the University of Arizona College of Law in 1972 with a J.D. He began work as an assistant U.S. Attorney for Arizona in 1980, and served in that role for seven years, including an attachment to an organized crime task force.
In 1987 he was appointed a state appeals court judge in the Division Two Arizona Court of Appeals, and a year later was named the presiding judge for the division. In 1991 he served as a criminal superior court judge in Pima County before his nomination to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.
Confirmed unanimously by the Senate, Judge Roll was sworn in on Nov. 25, 1991, and in 2006 was named the chief district court judge in Arizona, a position he held until his death.
In 1994, he was one of several district court judges who ruled that part of the federal handgun control law known as the Brady Law was unconstitutional. Judge Roll ruled that the federal government’s requirement of local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks of handgun purchasers violated both the Tenth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In 2009, Judge Roll received death threats after certifying a civil rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against Arizona ranchers who were accused of stopping people at gunpoint as they crossed his land and turning them over to the Border Patrol. The ranchers had sought to have the case dismissed. Judge Roll and his wife were placed under the protective custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Last month, Judge Roll reportedly sent an e-mail to the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski, attaching a letter from Reps. Giffords and Ed Pastor that urged the Ninth Circuit to “declare a judicial emergency” enabling the courts to adopt measures – such as extending trial deadlines – aimed at coping with the heavy load of immigration-related cases in the district.
In comments to The New York Times after the attack, Judge Kozinski speculated Judge Roll may have attended Rep. Giffords’ event to thank her for writing the letter in support of the judiciary.
Judge Roll is survived by his wife Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant, writer, cartoonist and jack of many trades. The former chief of Tucson Sentinel’s East Asia Bureau, he now lives in California (make of that what you will).