Cebull, of Billings, was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001 and has served as chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008.
The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: "A MOM'S MEMORY."
The forwarded text reads as follow:
"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.
"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?'" the email joke reads. "His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"
A photo accompanying the offensive e-mail
Cebull admitted Wednesday to sending the email to seven recipients, including his personal email address.
The judge acknowledged that the content of the email was racist, but said he does not consider himself racist. He said the email was intended to be a private communication.
"It was not intended by me in any way to become public," Cebull said. "I apologize to anybody who is offended by it, and I can obviously understand why people would be offended."
Cebull said his brother initially sent him the email, which he forwarded to six of his "old buddies" and acquaintances.
He admitted that he read the email and intended to send it to his friends.
"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."
Travis McAdam, executive director for the Montana Human Rights Network , said the email contained highly racist rhetoric unbecoming of a federal judge.
"It's one thing if the judge is not a fan of President Barack Obama, but you would think someone in his position would articulate that in a way that criticizes his policy decisions or his position on issues," McAdam said. "We have a hard time believing that a legitimate criticism of the president involves distributing a joke that basically compares African Americans with animals."
Cebull said he does not consider himself prejudice against people of other races or ethnic backgrounds, and that his actions in his courtroom have demonstrated that.
"I have never considered myself that way," Cebull said. "All I can emphasize is I've treated people in my courtroom all these years fairly. I don't think I've ever demonstrated racism. Nobody has ever even implied it."
Montana immigration attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath was on the receiving end of a racially charged email sent by a top Immigrations and Customs Enforcement official last fall. That official was suspended after sending Haque-Hausrath an email implying that Muslim Americans must prove their allegiance to the United State.
Haque-Hausrath, who is in an interracial marriage and recently fathered a child with his wife, said Cebull's e-mail was "deeply troubling."
"Another federal official who is entrusted to do his duties fairly and impartially has yet again sent an email from his work account during work hours that espouses deeply racist and bigoted views," Haque-Hausrath said. "The reason why I think it's so troubling, is it espouses the deeply racist view that interracial sex is equivalent to bestiality. For a federal judge to be equating the two, and say since Barack Obama is of mixed racial background, that his mother was somehow committing acts of bestiality is incredibly racist and troubling.
One of the recipients of the email Cebull sent forwarded it to another person, who in turn forwarded it to another person. The email was eventually passed along to the Great Falls Tribune, who contacted Cebull. Cebull said he was surprised the recipients of the e-mail passed it along with his name on it.
"This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part," Cebull said. "I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I'm not that way, never have been."