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Conservative Judges Plan to Blackball Columbia Grads

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More than a dozen Trump appointees have signed a letter critical of the school’s response to student protests and academic-integrity issues.

In a letter this week to Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, 13 jurists led by U.S. Circuit Judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch said the New York City school’s response to pro-Palestinian protests was inadequate and that the campus had become an “incubator of bigotry” with rampant antisemitism and a lack of diverse perspectives.

“Considering recent events, and absent extraordinary change, we will not hire anyone who joins the Columbia University community—whether as undergraduates or law students—beginning with the entering class of 2024,” the letter said.

The university’s central administration referred queries to Gillian Lester, dean of Columbia Law School. “We are proud that Columbia Law School graduates are consistently sought out by leading employers in the private and public sectors, including the judiciary,” Lester said.

Tensions between some judges and campuses have been escalating for more than two years. In March 2022, an influential conservative judge, Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sent a message to fellow jurists asking them to consider rejecting clerkship applications from Yale University students who disrupted a Federalist Society event at the New Haven, Conn., campus.

In 2022 and 2023, Ho and Branch, the highest ranking judges to sign this week’s letter, went further, saying they would refuse to hire any graduates of the Yale and Stanford University law schools after conservative speakers faced student-led disruptions there.

Ho declined to comment, but in speeches announcing the prior boycotts, he said he hoped to pressure school administrators to hire more faculty with conservative views and crack down on disruptive students he thought enforced a left-wing “cancel culture” on campus.

“Across the country, there are thousands of young people who are about to apply to law school. I would encourage them to think about the kind of legal education they want—and the kind of academic environment that will help them grow,” Ho said in a published version of a September 2022 speech. “If they want the closed and intolerant environment that Yale embraces today, that’s their call. But I want nothing to do with it.”

New York City police were posted this week on the campus of Columbia University. Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Two other judges who signed the letter to Columbia, David Counts and James Hendrix, who both sit on federal district courts in Texas, declined through spokeswomen to comment. The other 10 signatories didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The letter illustrates the relationship between influential judges and the law schools that train future attorneys and offers a glimpse into the potential repercussions for students and schools after a spring semester marked by disruptive pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Students at Columbia escalated their protest last week by occupying an academic building; police were called in to clear it and many students were arrested.

Concerns over campuses’ leftward ideological drift found broader purchase after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and the Jewish state’s forceful military response in Gaza. Pro-Palestinian protests swept the nation’s universities last fall and, even more prominently, this spring. Many Jewish students have said they feel unsafe on campus, concerned about antisemitic rhetoric, calls for Israel’s annihilation, and physical intimidation as encampments take over central quads.

Some legal professionals questioned the wisdom of blacklisting specific institutions.

“Boycotts by employers of entire student bodies serve little purpose,” said Nikia Gray, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. “Hiring decisions should be based on a candidate’s individual qualifications and conduct, not the institution named on their diploma.”

Federal judges “have wide latitude with respect to the hiring of law clerks,” said Jeremy Fogel, a former federal and state judge who now directs the Berkeley Judicial Institute at the University of California. But he questioned whether the letter was “consistent with the dignity of the judges’ office and the obligation of judges to be impartial.”

The “ban on law clerks from Columbia Law School likely punishes people who may have had no involvement in the campus protests,” Fogel said.

Federal judges at all levels typically hire recent law school graduates to serve as law clerks for one or two years, a prestigious position that can lead to lucrative employment offers or academic careers. The pinnacle achievement is a clerkship for a Supreme Court justice, which in current practice typically requires stellar performance in law school and a year clerking for a federal circuit judge.

Columbia has produced prominent lawyers throughout the nation’s history, including the first chief justice, John Jay. On the current Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch holds a Columbia undergraduate degree. Gorsuch didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Although the Harvard and Yale law schools dominate clerkship appointments at the Supreme Court, Columbia graduates typically are well represented in such positions there and throughout the federal judiciary. The judges who signed the letter are among the most conservative now serving and to date haven’t established their chambers as regular feeders to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t immediately clear how many, if any, Columbia graduates have sought clerkships with the signatories.

The boycott of Columbia extends further than that of Yale and Stanford, encompassing undergraduates as well as law students.

In this week’s letter, Ho, a University of Chicago Law School graduate who sits on the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, and Branch, who holds a law degree from Emory University and serves on the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, were joined by district judges from Georgia, North Dakota and Texas, and judges of two specialized courts, the U.S. Court of International Trade, in New York, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

None of the signatories attended Columbia.

There currently are 890 federal judge positions, 45 of which are vacant, according to government figures. In addition, semiretired senior judges continue to hear cases in many courthouses.

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Source: Conservative Judges Plan to Blackball Columbia University Graduates – WSJ