On May 6, a group of thirteen judges, led by Judge James C. Ho of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, signed a letter stating that they refuse to hire any student from Columbia University beginning with the class of 2024, based on the judges’ view of the university’s response to protest activity on the university’s campus. It was just the latest of several such boycotts based on grievances specific judges had with specific schools. According to a letter sent today by CREW to the secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Judicial Conference must review the hiring practices, public statements and policies of the federal judiciary to ensure that it operates under a single unified hiring policy committed to merit-based evaluation of individual candidates in adherence to the judiciary’s highest ethical standards.

Over the last several years, federal court judges at both the district court and appellate court levels have used the judicial clerk hiring process to issue similar broad policies based on personal opinions. While judges have discretion in their hiring decisions, blanket public statements like these put into question whether they are using the judicial office to advance their private interests, as well as the judges’ impartiality in a case involving one of these universities, or in which a lawyer who graduated from one of these universities appears before them, or in which the issue that formed the basis of the judges’ objection is implicated.

This pattern also establishes a damaging and troubling precedent for the entire judiciary. By letting these inappropriate—and unethical—boycotts go unaddressed, the federal judiciary will be perceived as more and more ideologically divided. In turn, this perception of bias in judicial hiring could have serious consequences for the entire justice system.

Without public confidence, the integrity and independence of judges is in jeopardy. This clerkship hiring boycott, led by a small but influential number of jurists, merits the committee’s attention and repudiation. The Judicial Conference must take action in order to preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary as a whole in the eyes of the public.

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