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clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:02 pm
by Anonymous User
Will be clerking for GOP judge -- I sense politics are important to her/him. I'm a bleeding heart.

Question: i would like to join the local young democrats or whatever equivalent -- would this be a problem? Would I need to seek permission from judge? My thought is that I don't need to ask judge for permission, but should also not reveal the name of the judge for whom i clerk during meetings, nor ever discuss anything from chambers (stating the obvious).

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:25 pm
by Anonymous User
Depends on the judge. My last judge didn't care, my current judge says we can be members of political groups but absolutely cannot attend meetings or events for said groups during the clerkship.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2018 11:38 pm
by Laser Lady
The code of ethics puts very restrictive limits on law clerks' political activities, regardless of whether or not people know that you are an employee of the court. Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees provides several examples of impermissible political activities, then includes a broad catch-all provision prohibiting law clerks from otherwise "engag[ing] in partisan political activities." In my circuit, we're allowed to vote, and that is literally all we can do that has any kind of political slant to it (e.g., it is unethical to "like" a facebook post that includes a reference to a politician or political issue). If you really want to do this, you can ask your judge, but failing to ask your judge for permission is, in my opinion, an ethical violation. As the ethics guide for clerks explains, you should "[a]sk your judge if you have any question about whether it is appropriate to participate in a particular activity." See https://oscar.uscourts.gov/assets/Maint ... s_2011.pdf

Please note that both your political affiliation and your judge's political affiliation are irrelevant to this issue: it's a matter of ethics, not a matter of being consistent with your judge's personal opinions.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 12:27 am
by Auxilio
Echoing above that generally you want to stay far away from politics. My judge wanted me to cancel my membership to a Canadian political party when I asked him after looking at judicial ethics.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:26 am
by Quichelorraine
Echoing what everyone else has said. Just don't. Don't go to meetings, don't go to fundraisers, don't even post overtly political content on Facebook. It isn't worth it.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:42 pm
by Anonymous User
Laser Lady wrote:The code of ethics puts very restrictive limits on law clerks' political activities, regardless of whether or not people know that you are an employee of the court. Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees provides several examples of impermissible political activities, then includes a broad catch-all provision prohibiting law clerks from otherwise "engag[ing] in partisan political activities." In my circuit, we're allowed to vote, and that is literally all we can do that has any kind of political slant to it (e.g., it is unethical to "like" a facebook post that includes a reference to a politician or political issue). If you really want to do this, you can ask your judge, but failing to ask your judge for permission is, in my opinion, an ethical violation. As the ethics guide for clerks explains, you should "[a]sk your judge if you have any question about whether it is appropriate to participate in a particular activity." See https://oscar.uscourts.gov/assets/Maint ... s_2011.pdf

Please note that both your political affiliation and your judge's political affiliation are irrelevant to this issue: it's a matter of ethics, not a matter of being consistent with your judge's personal opinions.


I agree with this - although I will note that a number of judges and law clerks on my circuit are still very active with Fed Soc so I'm not really sure where the line is.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:45 pm
by minnbills
Anonymous User wrote:I agree with this - although I will note that a number of judges and law clerks on my circuit are still very active with Fed Soc so I'm not really sure where the line is.


Legal orgs like fedsoc or ACS are more likely OK but yeah defer to your judge. Working in political party is almost certainly not ok.

You can also just cease your activities and not bring it up if you feel like it will lead to conflict.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:47 pm
by Anonymous User
Fed Soc isn’t partisan (even though in practice it is). It was explained to me that you could, say, volunteer for pro-anti abortion groups because they’re not affiliated with a political party, but couldn’t volunteer for Dems/Repubs. Again, in practice the abortion stuff is going to fall along party lines, but it’s issue-based, not party-based. (And your judge may still not want you to be involved in any of it, which would be what matters, but that’s a distinction I’ve heard.)

(People have made clear this is wrong and I think I was mixing up Hatch Act restrictions with the code of judicial ethics. Sorry all.)

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:21 pm
by middlemarch
The Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees prohibits law clerks from participating in both partisan and nonpartisan political activity. See http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/f ... ch03_0.pdf.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:26 pm
by jd20132013
There’s literally no benefit you’d actually be foregoing by not officially being in this group for a year that you couldn’t get by just hanging out with some of the folks in it unofficially. Why even walk the line (ethically or in terms of chambers environment)

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:08 am
by Anonymous User
middlemarch wrote:The Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees prohibits law clerks from participating in both partisan and nonpartisan political activity. See http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/f ... ch03_0.pdf.

Good to know, thanks.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:48 am
by BlackAndOrange84
Here's the more lengthy guide specifically for federal law clerks: https://oscar.uscourts.gov/assets/Maint ... s_2011.pdf

I think the general point is that these set an absolute baseline, and anything that's out under them you shouldn't even consider. Beyond that, your judge may be more restrictive, for example on whether participation in law-related groups like ACS or FedSoc is appropriate, and it's incumbent on you to clear it with your judge.

By the way, your initial sentiment about not needing to run it by the judge is the wrong way to conduct yourself as a law clerk. When in any doubt at all, check with your judge. That you had a question about it indicates that you need to run it by the judge.

ETA: the stuff earlier about it being ok to participate in political issue advocacy like abortion (as opposed to partisan advocacy) is just plain wrong. See the example about participating in a local environmental group in the guide for law clerks I linked, which makes clear this kind of advocacy is not ok for clerks. I think FedSoc/ACS are generally considered ok because they are "nonprofit organizations devoted to the law," which are kosher for judges under the judicial code of conduct Canon 4(a)(3), but still check with your boss.

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:04 am
by lionelhutz123
What you are proposing to do is expressly unethical under rules for court employees and you should not do it. You should not post or repost things on Facebook or Twitter. You should not attend rallies. You should not canvas or make phone calls.

I know a lot of folks clerking right now who are frustrating by the fact that they cannot vent about all the insane horseshit this administration doing, but that is the trade off for serving in an impartial third branch of government.

Someone clerking should know this...

Re: clerking & politics (Young Democrats)

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:38 am
by minnbills
lionelhutz123 wrote:What you are proposing to do is expressly unethical under rules for court employees and you should not do it. You should not post or repost things on Facebook or Twitter. You should not attend rallies. You should not canvas or make phone calls.

I know a lot of folks clerking right now who are frustrating by the fact that they cannot vent about all the insane horseshit this administration doing, but that is the trade off for serving in an impartial third branch of government.

Someone clerking should know this...


Bro this is the age of trump. Half the federal judiciary (and counting) are members of FedSoc.

The bottom line, OP, is that you need to clear everything with your judge. But as far as joining/working for a political party during your clerkship, it is almost certainly not ok.