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Yale Law Students Must Be Quaking in Their Boots

Oct. 5, 2022, 1:59 PM

I’ll say this much for US appeals court Judge James Ho: He’s defying the stereotype that Asian Americans are quiet worker bees who fade into the background.

Ho, who sits on the Fifth Circuit, has been throwing himself under klieg lights. “I will no longer hire law clerks from Yale Law School,” he declared at a Federalist Society conference in Kentucky last week. Ho miffed that the school “not only tolerates the cancellation of views—it actively practices it.”

What better way for an up-and-coming judge to get attention than to plunge into America’s culture wars?

“Judge Ho certainly comes across as very partisan,” said Kermit Roosevelt, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. “And the growing numbers of judges like him do suggest that something about the judiciary has changed. My sense is that it’s a sign of polarization within the elite legal community.”

Taking a page from the right-wing handbook, Ho is going to town. “I would contend that cancel culture is one of the leading reasons why citizens no longer trust a wide variety of once-leading institutions,” he said. “It turns out that, when elite institutions make clear that people who think like you and me shouldn’t even exist, we return the favor,” urging his fellow jurists to join the Yale boycott.

So take that, numero uno law school! Unless you renounce cancel culture, your graduates will go begging for federal clerkships.

Gimme a break.

Perhaps I’m underestimating Ho’s clout, but I can’t imagine students turning down coveted seats at the nation’s most prestigious law school because he put it on his personal blacklist. And what are the odds that other federal judges, even unabashed conservative ones, will trash the resumes of awesome Yalies because of the school’s woke reputation?

As for the idea that Yale Law School operates a torture chamber for conservative students, well, the likes of Josh Hawley, J.D. Vance, and Brett Kavanaugh seem to be doing just fine. And let’s not forget Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, who’s also a proud graduate—albeit on trial charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 riots.

‘The Age of Trump’

“Judges tend to speak through their opinions,” Roosevelt said. “It’s rare to have judges speak outside the job. ... It’s unusual for Ho to suggest a general liberal-conservative conflict and take a side in it.”

What’s fueling this polarization is simple, said Saul Cornell, a professor at Fordham University who specializes in legal history: “This is part and parcel of the age of Trump.”

Indeed, Ho, who was appointed by Trump, has been polishing his act as the cultural warrior judge extraordinaire. In February, at another Federalist Society event, Ho went out of his way to defend libertarian Ilya Shapiro, who got into trouble for using the term “lesser black woman” to describe President Joe Biden’s plan to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Though the topic at the event was supposed to be originalism, Ho used the occasion to rail against cancel culture, declaring, “I stand with Ilya.”

Even as far back as 2018, NPR asked whether Ho in his opinions and dissents was writing “legal opinions or political commentary,” citing his “aggressive rhetoric” on abortion, which he’s called a “moral tragedy,” and the Second Amendment, which he claims has been relegated to a “second class right.”

Ho is a performance artist. It seems he’s been trying to break out of the overcrowded pack of ambitious young conservative judges to burnish his brand as the leading firebrand. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ho’s latest outburst was a check on the commotion surrounding Aileen Cannon, the judge in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, who’s now creaming him as the most Trumpian of Trump judges.

“He’s looking for headlines,” Cornell said. “Once upon a time, the judiciary was the most trusted branch of the federal government, and now we have these cowards. It used to be—during the William F. Buckley era—conservatives could dish it out as well as take it. Now they’re wimps, yet they call liberals the culture of victimhood.”

Ho is exploiting the moment for his own career, but isn’t he also wreaking havoc on our trust in the judicial system?

“I think that public faith in the judiciary is affected much more by the Supreme Court than by lower judges,” Roosevelt said. “But Judge Ho doesn’t help.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivia Chen in New York at vchen@bloombergindustry.com
Twitter: @ViviaChen
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com