Federal judges cleared of misconduct after hiring clerk accused of racism

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U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor. Courtesy: 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

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(Reuters) - Two Republican judicial appointees including the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' chief judge have been cleared of misconduct over their hiring of a law clerk reported to have texted "I hate Black people" to a colleague while at a conservative nonprofit.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' Judicial Council on Thursday upheld the dismissal of the misconduct complaint filed against Chief U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor of the 11th Circuit and U.S. District Judge Corey Maze in Birmingham, Alabama.

The 13-member council, which was referred the case, said Pryor and Maze "committed no misconduct in performing due diligence and then determining to hire the candidate based on the information before them."

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Neither judge responded to requests for comment.

That prospective clerk is Crystal Clanton, a student at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, who upon graduation is slated to clerk for Maze before starting a clerkship under Pryor in 2023.

The criticism stemmed from Clanton's time as the conservative student group Turning Point USA's national field director. A 2017 New Yorker story examined how the group was struggling with racial bias allegations.

Journalist Jane Mayer reported Clanton sent a text message to a colleague stating "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE" and engaged in other racist conduct.

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

Clanton resigned from Turning Point and was later hired by Ginni Thomas, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to assist her media ventures, before attending George Mason.

Her hiring as a clerk prompted further news reports and a November letter seven Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent the judiciary demanding an investigation.

That letter said Pryor and Maze had hired a clerk with a "history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct." A Dec. 22 ruling said the case before the 2nd Circuit council was prompted by that letter.

The judge in the December ruling, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston, said the judges knew of the allegations but, following due diligence, made a "considered judgment" the claims were false.

Both said they were repeatedly informed by people who knew Clanton that the allegations were false. Livingston said those included someone who claimed a disgruntled employee who "created fake text messages to be used against co-workers."

Read more:

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

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