House Dems ask why federal judges hired law clerk alleged to have sent racist text

By: - November 12, 2021 12:10 am

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals at the the Elbert P. Tuttle Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Photo by John McIntosh, States Newsroom.

WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee are urging the chief justice of the Supreme Court to investigate decisions by federal judges in Georgia and Alabama to hire a law clerk who allegedly has “a history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct.”

The letter says the Democrats have “grave concern” about the hiring by Judge William Pryor, chief judge of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and Judge Corey Maze of the Northern District of Alabama.

States in the 11th Circuit include Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The letter was led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Chairman Hank Johnson of Georgia.

“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,” the House Democrats wrote.

“To put it mildly, it would be reasonable to question these judges’ impartiality in cases where race, religion, or national origin plays a role, which is the statutory standard for disqualification,” they wrote.

They did not name the law clerk in their letter but in footnotes link to articles about Crystal Clanton, a student at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Virginia.

The legal blog Above the Law first reported Clanton had been hired for the “incredibly prestigious” clerkships, set for 2022 and 2023, by Pryor and Maze.

Clanton made headlines in 2017  when The New Yorker reported that she sent a racist text message to her co-workers at the conservative student group Turning Point USA, writing “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE… I hate blacks. End of story.”  The New Yorker reviewed a screenshot of the text.

Clanton told the publication that  “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager.”

The House Democrats’ letter details other reported incidents, such as when Clanton sent a photo of a man with brown skin to her co-workers with the caption “just thinking about ways to do another 9/11,” according to the publication Mediaite.

When she worked at Turning Point USA, Clanton fired the organization’s only Black employee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and that employee stated in The New Yorker article that she felt “very uncomfortable working there because I was black.”

Clanton left Turning Point USA and later worked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni.

The House Democrats wrote to Roberts as the presiding member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the federal courts. They also addressed the letter to Judge Charles Wilson, the most senior active member of the 11th Circuit appeals court.

They said while they said the reported remarks are “worrying in the extreme,” their concern was more that Pryor and Maze would make such a hire. They said the clerk’s past conduct was clearly available at the time of the 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,” the Democrats said.

Due to a federal holiday, Pryor and Maze could not be reached for comment.

The Democrats said that “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 letter was also signed by Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen, (D-Tenn.),  and Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chair Gerry Connolly, (D-Va.).

The lawmakers wrote that they expect a briefing on the matter by Dec. 1.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance. Before joining States Newsroom, Ariana covered public health and chemical policy on Capitol Hill for E&E News. As a Florida native, she's worked for the Miami Herald and her hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and NPR. She is a graduate of the University of Florida.

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