Trump-appointed judges say 'course correction' could halt Yale clerk boycott

Judges Elizabeth Branch and James Ho speak during The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
  • Judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch speak at Yale
  • Judges cite positive developments for campus free speech

(Reuters) - Two conservative federal judges on Wednesday said they hoped to not have to follow through on their pledges not to hire Yale Law School students as law clerks to protest "cancel culture" at the school, saying a "course correction" appeared to be underway.

But U.S. Circuit Judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, both appointees of former Republican President Donald Trump, told attendees an event at Yale University that they remained concerned about threats to free speech on campuses nationwide.

"Cancel culture is a cancer on our culture, and we need a cure now before it's too late," Ho said at an event at the New Haven, Connecticut-based university hosted by the William F. Buckley Program, which was streamed online.

Ho, who in September said he would cease hiring clerks from Yale to protest students disrupting conservative speakers at Yale events and called on other judges to do the same, said too often respect for diverse viewpoints is lacking on college campuses.

He said that environment was inconsistent with the nation's founding free speech principles and argued that schools that fail to discourage students from disrespecting opposing viewpoints pose risks for society at large as students enter the workforce.

"When we teach students to cancel others in the classroom, they take these lessons and use them on their employers, on coworkers, on fellow citizens across the county," Ho, a judge on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said.

Branch, a member of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who is the only judge to publicly join Ho's boycott, said that while universities have been hesitant to punish disruptive students, "fatigue is growing for disruptive protests."

Asked by attendees what it would take for them to end their planned boycott of Yale students, both judges held out the possibility they could abandon it before it takes effect beginning with the class of 2023.

Ho said he understood that Yale appeared to recognize that they "clearly need a massive course correction."

Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken in a letter to alumni on Oct. 12 outlined moves the school has made to "reaffirm our enduring commitment to the free and unfettered exchange of ideas." And she has invited Ho and Branch to speak at another event next year.

"We're watching," Branch said. "We have not only seen some positive developments on campus and campuses, but we've gotten a lot of feedback since we have been here. And I know I'm encouraged by some of the changes that I see that are occurring."

Read more:

Trump-appointed judges behind Yale boycott agree to speak at school

Yale Law trumpets free speech stance amid judge's clerk-boycott push

Trump-appointed judge boycotts Yale for law clerks over 'cancel culture'

2nd Trump-appointed judge publicly says she will not hire Yale clerks

Yale Law dean rebukes 'rude and insulting' students who protested speaker

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.