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Judges ‘Hope’ Their Planned Yale Clerk Ban Can Be Avoided (1)

Nov. 30, 2022, 11:08 PMUpdated: Dec. 1, 2022, 2:33 AM

Two federal appeals court judges appeared to soften their vow to not hire Yale law school graduates as clerks over what they see as a “cancel culture” bias against conservative voices on the elite campus.

Judge James Ho of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch said at an event at Yale on Wednesday that they’re seeing signs that their complaints may be resonating.

LISTEN:Bloomberg Law columnists discuss Judge Ho and his rationale for his Yale ban

The Trump appointees acknowledged in response to student questions that their approach might not be best way to address what they see as free-speech issues but said they felt it was the only option. “It’s not something I want to do. And in fact, I’ve made very clear, if somebody has a better idea, I am all ears,” Ho said.

Branch said their “greatest hope” would be that the boycott never takes effect. “We have not only seen some positive developments on campus and campuses, we have gotten a lot of feedback since we’ve been here. And I know I’m encouraged by some of those changes that I see that are occurring,” Branch said.

She didn’t elaborate on progress, but a Yale Law School spokeswoman said Ho and Branch are among eight federal judges invited to campus to “talk about friendships across divides and judging in partisan times in the spring semester as part of an ongoing lecture series.”

Political and other conservatives have also in recent years complained about conservative voices being marginalized on college campuses, especially at elite universities they say are biased toward liberals.

Clerk Boycott

Ho first announced his plans to not hire future Yale graduates to prestigious clerking posts in a September keynote address to Kentucky chapters of the conservative Federalist Society that was later published in the Texas Review of Law & Politics.

During that speech, Ho criticized how the school handled protests of events featuring conservative speakers and invited others to join him in not hiring Yale clerks.

He began his appearance on Wednesday by doubling down on his rhetoric from the previous remarks, calling cancel culture on campuses a “cancer” and a threat to democracy.

“It turns out when universities tolerate and, in fact, teach sometimes there are no consequence for intolerance and illiberalism that message sticks with people. When we teach students to cancel others in the classroom they take these lessons and use them against their employers, or coworkers, on fellow citizens across the country,” Ho said. “As it turns out what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.”

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken defended the school’s free speech practices in an October note to alumni, saying it made “unequivocally clear that attempts to disrupt events on campus are unacceptable and violate” school norms.

The discussion at Yale drew roughly 70 people to a packed classroom and was hosted by The William F. Buckley Jr. Program, a conservative organization that describes itself as promoting “intellectual diversity” at the school. Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar served as a moderator.

Tasha Dambacher, a Yale student at the event who described herself as conservative and is interested in going to law school, said she was initially “skeptical” about the boycott penalizing students. After the presentation, however, Dambacher said she agreed it might be the only option.

“I do entirely understand and empathize with they’re trying to do,” she said.

(Recasts paragraph 1 and updates throughout with additional details.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in New Haven, Connecticut, at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com