The United States Law Week

Harvard Law Pushes Clerkships for New Trump Judges (2)

Dec. 20, 2019, 10:15 PMUpdated: Dec. 24, 2019, 3:49 PM

Harvard Law is pushing students and alumni to apply for clerkships with Trump-appointed judges after no one tapped its internal network to work with four recently confirmed jurists.

The Ivy League school’s career services office sent a message to students and alumni saying that a lack of applications on file internally from its network to work in those appellate and district court chambers “seems like wasted opportunities.”

“If you could be available for a 2020 clerkship, now is a time you can stand out with just the Harvard brand name, not to mention your other qualifications, as the applicant pool nationwide shrinks,” the school said.

The message was one of two delivered this week that were obtained by Bloomberg Law. They were internal blog posts that included links.

A liberal Harvard Law student group, the Harvard Parity Project, took to Twitter blasting the school for what the group considered attempts to push students into prestigious positions despite two Trump judges receiving “Not Qualified” ratings from the ABA panel that reviews judicial nominees before the Senate. Lawrence VanDyke was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Sarah Pitlyk to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

“If not working for these judges is wasting opportunities, we are happy to keep wasting them,” the Harvard Parity Project said.

Progressives decry the appointments, partly over the ratings, while conservatives defend them as qualified and call the ABA review process biased toward liberals even though virtually all Trump judges have received favorable marks from the group.

Michigan Law professor Leah Litman, who clerked for the Sixth Circuit and for now-retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, chastised Harvard for pressuring students.

“It’s not responsible to tell students that they should apply to any/every judge, or to say that *anyone* with whom the students might disagree is a judge they should be willing to clerk for,” she said in a Dec. 20 tweet. “It is also a good reminder to our profession that we should be thinking (and rethinking) the kinds of positions/jobs/work experiences we reward.”

‘Great Skiing!’

Federal clerkships are highly sought-after, with candidates often applying for positions years in advance. Harvard ranks among the top of clerkship-getting-institutions, with 88 of its 2018 graduates placed in federal courts.

Applications for spots in the chambers of federal appellate judges are even more in demand, often garnering speedy applications from the best candidates across the country.

The California-based Ninth Circuit that reviews cases for western states is one of the most desirable clerkships.

On Dec. 17, Harvard sent a message to its network playing up the VanDyke opportunity in Nevada: “Lawrence VanDyke (HLS ’06) was confirmed last week to become a new judge on the Ninth Circuit based in Reno ('next to Lake Tahoe and great skiing!').”

A second message on Dec. 19 that included the reference to wasted opportunities and promoting 2020 clerkships also referenced zero applications at Harvard to work in the Los Angeles chambers of California appellate court judge John Wiley, who was appointed by Democrats, and another newly confirmed Ninth Circuit judge, Patrick Bumatay.

Bumatay’s nomination was less politically charged than VanDyke’s, but he still came in for criticism over his involvement with controversial Trump immigration policies.

The other Trump-appointee without Harvard clerk applications was Judge Douglas Cole of the Southern District of Ohio. Both Bumatay, a former federal prosecutor, and Cole received qualified and well-qualified ratings, respectively, from the ABA. Cole was confirmed with bipartisan backing.

None of these judges should have any trouble filling their clerk spots, if they haven’t already. Cole and Pitlyk don’t have any open positions on the OSCAR system, the website through which applicants apply for clerkships.

A call to the district court clerks confirmed both judges had been sworn in but neither chambers were currently staffed. Both are expected to begin their new roles early next year.

Harvard’s career services office said it was unable to comment because staff had left for winter break. The law school’s media team, and the Ninth Circuit didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Updates Dec. 20 story to add information about California state court clerkship in paragraph 14 and that Judge Cole received a "Well Qualified" rating from the ABA in paragraph 16.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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