One of the biggest stories of the conservative project of the last 30 years or so is its dedication to shaping the judiciary and incredible success in doing so. But despite everything we know about the Federalist Society and the Judicial Crisis Network—and the millions of dollars that go into these projects—it never quite breaks through as a national issue, at least not to the extent that a massive project to remake an entire branch of government in the mold of one particular repressive ideology should.
Now we have yet more evidence of how intense and just downright creepy this project really is. The New York Times reported today that the Heritage Foundation, a rabid right-wing think tank, runs a “training academy” for recent law grads who have been hired on for prestigious federal judge clerkships, the contents of which the participants must swear to keep secret. The application materials also reportedly required potential attendees to pledge not to use what they learn “for any purpose contrary to the mission or interest of the Heritage Foundation.” Slate had reported the existence of the program earlier this week.
Hours after the Times began asking questions about the program—a Heritage spokeswoman would only say that it’s “a private program” that would remain that way—the organization “deleted the references to donors, secrecy and loyalty from the application materials it had posted on its website,” per the paper. That doesn’t mean those secrecy requirements aren’t still in place, just that they’re likely now they’re double-super extra secret.
Political science professor Lawrence Baum told the Times that the “willingness of conservative groups to invest in the future in this way is one reason that the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation could recommend potential Trump nominees to the Supreme Court with confidence that they were deeply rooted in their conservatism.” He’s right. These groups control the nominating process for the Supreme Court precisely because they invest so heavily in cultivating these little shits from the day they enter their first classes at law school.
Of course, the federal judiciary is already crawling with these worms. You may remember Josh Hammer, who formerly wrote for Ben Shapiro and Erick Erickson’s sites and then went on to clerk for Judge Ho, after publicly announcing he could no longer express his cool conservative thoughts online because of the requirement to be nonpartisan—but he could still send them privately to Ben Sasse instead. Winky face. Those valuable thoughts had previously included describing abortion as “the moral and legal successor to the antebellum slavery.”
The competition for these clerkships is intense, and those who get them are ambitious, driven people, often hoping to end up as federal judges or even Supreme Court justices one day themselves. Slate revealed this dynamic at Yale last month with a piece on Yale Law professor Jed Rubenfeld and his allegedly creepy behavior towards female students, who were apprehensive about reporting their experiences because of the immense power he and his wife Amy Chua wielded through recommending clerks to Supreme Court justices.
You can imagine that any young conservative who wants a leg up in his career might jump at the opportunity to attend an all expenses paid camp in Washington if it helps secure his credentials the next time he wants a job with Judge White Richguy IV. Even if he is required to pledge his loyalty to the Heritage Foundation.