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Firm Raises Questions About DEI For Federal Judicial Law Clerks

woman at desk

As the end of summer is bringing new classes of law clerks to federal judicial chambers across the country, the National Employment Lawyers Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is looking with renewed focus to the processes by which these much sought after positions are awarded. In particular, the Committee has been monitoring the case of Crystal Clanton, current clerk to Judge Corey Maze (N.D. Ala.) and soon-to-be clerk to Judge William Pryor (11th Circuit). As was reported in a 2017 New Yorker article, Ms. Clanton purportedly sent a colleague a text saying, “I hate Black people,” among other allegedly racist comments, while working as the conservative student group Turning Point USA’s national field director. Ms. Clanton has stated she does not recall making the statements.

The U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability has re-opened an inquiry into the judges’ respective hiring of Ms. Clanton, after the 2nd Circuit Judicial Council decided in January of this year to uphold the decision of Chief 2nd Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston that there was insufficient evidence of misconduct in Ms. Clanton’s hiring by either judge. The continued concerns surrounding Ms. Clanton’s hiring stem in large part from the fact that no transparent policies govern the federal law clerk hiring process, much less specific, uniform procedures to uncover and address potential biases held by applicants. In the absence of such policies and procedures, one cannot credibly evaluate the equity or propriety of the hiring process, as it is impossible to violate non-existent standards.

This is unacceptable, in light of the influential role judicial law clerks play in the disposition of cases and the broader administration of justice. Litigants, lawyers, and all those who come into contact with the federal judiciary deserve to do so with the confidence that all court personnel, law clerks included, are free of invidious biases and are committed to a judiciary that is impartial, fair, and just for all. The DEI Committee will continue to monitor the progress of this investigation and plans to bring these concerns to the judiciary, in an effort to promote a more transparent, uniform, and accountable judicial clerk selection process. If you are interested in contributing to these efforts or the broader mission of the DEI Committee, please contact NELA DEI Committee Chair M. Nieves Bolaños.

This article was originally written in the NELA newsletter.