A Conservative Group’s Closed-Door ‘Training’ of Judicial Clerks Draws Concern

A Conservative Group’s Closed-Door ‘Training’ of Judicial Clerks Draws Concern

Jill Dash, vice president for strategic engagement at the American Constitution Society, which is often described as the Federalist Society’s liberal counterpart, said there was no comparable program aimed at liberal law clerks.

“I am not aware of anything like this on the progressive side,” she said.

According to the application materials, Heritage’s unnamed donors will pay for travel expenses to Washington, hotel rooms and meals during the three-day program. The curriculum will cover, the materials said, “originalism, textualism, habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights and other substantive legal and practical subject matter.” Originalism and textualism are modes of interpreting the Constitution and statutes that are generally but not exclusively associated with conservatives.

The application called for several short essays. One prompt said, “Please describe your understanding of originalism.” Another said, “Please identify the United States Supreme Court justice (past or present) whose jurisprudential philosophy and approach to judging you agree with most, and explain why.”

It was unclear whether an applicant hostile to originalism, which seeks to interpret the Constitution as it was understood by those who drafted and ratified it, or who named a liberal justice would be admitted to the program.

Lawrence Baum, a political scientist at Ohio State University, said the program was an extension of other initiatives from the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

“One hallmark of the conservative legal community since the 1980s has been the efforts of its leaders to identify and nurture promising young lawyers with conservative views who may rise to important positions such as judgeships,” he said. “This academy is a good example of those efforts.”

“The people who are chosen to clerk for federal judges are a talented group, and the application form indicates an interest in identifying and training future clerks who are especially accomplished and who are committed to conceptions of the law that conservatives favor,” he said. “The willingness of conservative groups to invest in the future in this way is one reason that the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation could recommend potential Trump nominees to the Supreme Court with confidence that they were deeply rooted in their conservatism.”

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