A New York judge has been forced to permanently step down after sharing an image of a noose captioned with the words "Make America Great Again" to his Facebook page.
Kyle Canning, a justice in the town of Altona, NY, originally resigned in June, but now he has been permanently barred from judicial practice, the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Tuesday.
The 29-year-old made the controversial post in February 2018, just six weeks after he became a judge. The image depicted a tied noose over a black background, with a caption printed in all caps at the top of the photo.
"IF WE WANT TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN WE WILL HAVE TO MAKE EVIL PEOPLE FEAR PUNISHMENT AGAIN," the caption read.
Canning was served with a formal complaint regarding the post on May 7, 2019, and he stepped down less than two months later. He said in his resignation letter he felt he was being "coerced into resigning."
Although "Make America Great Again" is an official campaign slogan used by President Trump, Canning said he did not interpret the post as having any association with the president's politics. The judge described himself as a Democrat, telling the New York Times, "There is not a man that I could despise more than Donald Trump."
But the conduct commission disagreed with that assessment. Commission administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian criticized Canning's post both for its political nature and for its invocation of historically racist symbols.
"The noose is an incendiary image with repugnant racial connotations. It is the very antithesis of law and justice," Tembeckjian said in the commission's statement. "For a judge to use the image of the noose in making a political point undermines the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the courts."
Canning said he simply thought the post was supporting the death penalty and that he didn't mean to make any point beyond that.
"The post was not racist. I’m not a racist guy,” he told the New York Times. "I see it as pro-death penalty, pro-capital punishment. It doesn't need to be a noose; it could have been a gas chamber. It could have been an electric chair."
Canning, who said he was encouraged to run for the position of justice because "it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to run," was originally set to serve until 2021. The role, which is not a full-time job, pays $8,702 per year.
In his resignation letter, Canning apologized for the effect his actions had on the town.
"It has been a pleasure serving this town as one of its justices, and I will greatly miss my duties," he wrote. "l do formally apologize for the inconvenience and hardship that I have imposed on my co-justice and the Town of Altona."