Welcome to Reuters Legal News beta. Please enjoy and provide us with your feedback as we continue to improve the Reuters Legal News experience.

Skip to main content

Lawmakers seek probe of judges' hiring of clerk mired in racism controversy

3 minute read

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) questions U.S. Attorney General William Barr during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Pool via REUTERS

Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com

(Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers on the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee urged the federal judiciary on Wednesday to investigate the conduct of two Republican-appointed federal judges who have hired a law clerk with a "history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct."

Seven lawmakers including U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee's chairman, and Hank Johnson of Georgia, who heads its courts, intellectual property and internet subcommittee, in a letter called the clerk's past conduct "alarming."

They requested a briefing on the matter by Dec. 1. The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts declined to comment.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com

The letter followed reports last month that U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had picked Crystal Clanton, a law student at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, for a prestigious clerkship starting in 2023.

Upon graduation, Clanton will first clerk for U.S. District Judge Corey Maze, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in Birmingham, Alabama. Pryor was appointed by former President George W. Bush.

The controversy over Clanton's hiring stemmed from her time as the national field director for the conservative student group Turning Point USA.

In a New Yorker story in 2017 examining how the group was struggling with allegations of racial bias, journalist Jane Mayer reported that Clanton had sent a text message to a colleague stating "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE," and had engaged in other racist conduct.

After resigning from Turning Point, Clanton was hired by Ginni Thomas, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to assist her media ventures and was admitted to George Mason as a law student.

Pryor and Maze did not respond to requests for comment.

Clanton could not be reached for comment. She told the New Yorker in 2017 that she had no recollection of the messages and that they "do not reflect what I believe or who I am."

In their letter to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson, the 11th Circuit's senior judge, the lawmakers cited Canton's reported text message and other remarks they considered troubling.

They argued her hiring by the two judges "threatens to seriously undermine the public’s faith in the federal judiciary."

They said minorities would not be able to trust that they will receive equal justice before Pryor and Maze and that no one pursuing discrimination or civil rights cases could assume their rulings will be free from bias.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com

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

More from Reuters