House Chairs Urge Judiciary to Investigate Hiring of Law Clerk with History of Racist, Bigoted Conduct by Two Federal Judges
Washington, November 10, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Chair Hank Johnson (D-GA) led a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts and Circuit Judge Charles Wilson urging an investigation into the conduct of two federal judges for their hiring of a law clerk with a history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct. Chief Judge William Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit Court and Judge Corey Maze of the Northern District of Alabama, who hired the individual even in the face of wide reporting on the individual’s history of making discriminatory and bigoted remarks, have made no public statements explaining their hiring decisions and have refused requests for comments from multiple outlets. The Members have also requested a briefing on the results of the investigation by December 1st.
In their letter, the Members wrote, "Accordingly, as the facts now stand, these two federal judges hired an individual with a widely reported pattern of racist and bigoted conduct. In the eyes of the public, she will be one of these judges’ closest advisors with special access to the judicial decision-making process. In the eyes of the law, her work will be treated 'as one' with their own. That these judges hired her therefore creates both the appearance of and risk of actual bias in their chambers and their decisions as well as other potential problems..."
The letter was also signed by Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen (D-TN), Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Chair Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Chair David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chair Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
Full text of the letter can be found below and here:
November 10, 2021
The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.
The Honorable Charles Wilson
Dear Chief Justice Roberts and Judge Wilson:
We write with grave concern regarding the news that Judge William Pryor, Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Corey Maze of the Northern District of Alabama have hired an individual with a history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct as a future law clerk in their chambers. Placing an individual with this history in such close proximity to judicial decision-making threatens to seriously undermine the public’s faith in the federal judiciary. No litigant or lawyer who is part of a racial, national, or religious minority can trust that they will receive equal justice before these judges. No one bringing a case involving claims of discrimination or civil rights violations can assume that these judges’ rulings will be free from invidious bias. This is simply unacceptable. We urge you, as the presiding member of the Judicial Conference of the United States and the most senior active member of the Eleventh Circuit, to address and rectify the impacts of these recent hiring decisions and assure the public that racism and bigotry have no place in the federal judiciary.
The facts surrounding this hire’s past conduct are alarming. During the period that she worked as national field director for Turning Point USA:
When asked by a reporter about these statements and actions as they were first reported in 2017, this individual made no apology for her history of racist and bigoted conduct. Instead, she claimed that she “had no recollection” of what she had done.
While the above actions are worrying in the extreme, we want to make clear that the focus of this letter is not the individual who was hired but, rather, the members of the federal judiciary who chose to hire her. This past conduct was clearly publicly available by the time of these judges’ hiring decisions. If the judges were not aware of their law clerk’s widely reported record, their negligent hiring practices present their own set of problems with the judiciary and the judges’ abilities to discharge their administrative responsibilities competently. In any event, to our knowledge, these judges have taken no remedial action since these facts were widely reported yet again during recent weeks.
What makes Chief Judge Pryor’s and Judge Maze’s decisions so singularly problematic is the proximity law clerks have to judicial decision-making. Law clerks are unlike any other judicial employee due to the “confidential and close nature of the relationship between the clerk and the judge.” They are “privy to the judge’s thoughts in a way that neither parties to the lawsuit nor his most intimate family members may be.” Law clerks are frequently responsible for writing the questions a judge will ask at oral argument and even “writing a first draft of the [judge’s] opinion in a case.” As one court has explained:
In contrast to court clerks, who frequently perform ministerial functions, a law clerk generally performs discretionary acts of a judicial nature. Indeed, a law clerk is probably the one participant in the judicial process whose duties and responsibilities are most intimately connected with the judge’s own exercise of the judicial function.
The relationship between a judge and a law clerk is so close that they are even treated “as one” for purposes of judicial immunity.
Accordingly, as the facts now stand, these two federal judges hired an individual with a widely reported pattern of racist and bigoted conduct. In the eyes of the public, she will be one of these judges’ closest advisors with special access to the judicial decision-making process. In the eyes of the law, her work will be treated “as one” with their own. That these judges hired her therefore creates both the appearance of and risk of actual bias in their chambers and their decisions as well as other potential problems, including:
To date, the news of these judges’ hiring decisions has been met with uniform silence by the judges themselves, the courts on which they sit, and the Judicial Conference. The American public and the litigants and attorneys with cases before Chief Judge Pryor and Judge Maze are thus left wondering how the judiciary will address specific problems like those outlined above and are left with the impression that the judiciary is comfortable turning a blind eye to the hiring of an individual with a pattern of making racist and discriminatory remarks in precisely the forum—the federal courts—where there is supposed to be justice for the victims of such discrimination.
We ask that you promptly investigate this matter and take whatever action by the United States Judicial Conference or the Eleventh Circuit Judicial Council is necessary to preserve the public and litigants’ trust in the integrity and impartiality of the federal judiciary, protect judicial branch employees, and prevent invidious bias from further tainting the business of the Eleventh Circuit and the Northern District of Alabama. We request a briefing on the results of your investigation no later than December 1, 2021.
Thank you for addressing this matter with the urgency and concern it demands.Sincerely,