Barack Obama, Clerkships, John McCain, Politics

Obvious Important News For New Clerks

law clerk judicial clerkship Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgSome of you might remember that there is a presidential election going on. Turnout is expected to be high and many voters will be participating for the first time.

However, if you are a federal clerk you had better keep your political opinions to yourself. Free speech does not exist for you. One of our readers pointed out:

I just accepted a position as a federal law clerk for the 2009-10 term. I also have an Obama sticker on my bumper and an Obama sign in my yard. According to Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks (p.20), I would be violating Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees if I were currently clerking.

Pretty much. The scope of political activity is curtailed not just by the canons of judicial ethics, but also by the Hatch Act. As a clerk, you are discouraged from giving money, attending events, you’re not even allowed to wear a campaign button to work.

We’re all for judicial impartiality, but making clerks say “I don’t know nothin about birthin’ no babies” seems a bit undemocratic (small “d”) to us. Federal clerks participate in some of the most important decisions about how we live, and we expect them to be able to weigh both sides without passion or prejudice. But a bumper sticker removes the veil of ignorance and reduces clerks to partisan hacks? A legal fiction is one thing, this is a legal farce.

Luckily for new clerks like our reader, this is not a problem for 2009-2010 clerks. They can go nuts until they are “official” federal employees. But current clerks can attest to the exact moment where free speech falls to the illusion of impartiality.

Update: If you’re interested in learning more about clerkships, and if you’ll be in Washington on Saturday, October, 4, this free event may be of interest to you.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of clerkships

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