On Sunday, conservative commentator Josh Hammer announced he was leaving Online Politics and would be starting a job clerking for Judge James C. Ho of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Hammer is not exactly a prominent conservative writer, but he isn’t entirely obscure, either, having written for Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire and Erick Erickson’s The Resurgent, which is now part of something called The Maven.
Judge Ho, the former solicitor general of Texas, is a Trump appointment. It is perhaps not that interesting to see a conservative commentator go to work for a Trump-appointed judge, but Hammer’s announcement was a little unusual. He essentially said that now that he’s going to be a clerk for a federal judge, he can no longer express opinions:
He went as far as to say that a piece he had published the previous week was sort of a goodbye to his valued intellectual contributions:
That post is much more restrained than some of Hammer’s previous work. The cat is very much out of the bag when it comes to the prejudices and biases that could affect Hammer’s work for Judge Ho. In 2015, he complained that Duke University’s decision to allow a Muslim call to prayer from its chapel was “an unnecessary elevation of a minority faith” which “reeked of terrible timing following the recent massacres by Islamic terrorists in Paris.” In 2014, he complained of “illegals entering domestic soil from Ebola-stricken countries” and “a possible similar border penetration from the Islamic State.” In April last year, he wrote that abortion—sorry, the “state-sanctioned prenatal infanticide regime”—is “the moral and legal successor to the antebelleum slavery.” In November, he implied that Syrian men are intrinsically likely to harass women:
He is a mega fan of Ted Cruz, and “campaigned hard” for him in the 2016 primaries.
He believes that “Saving the republic requires defeating the Left. Defeating the Left requires advancing principled conservatism.” He appears to consider himself a Logic Troop in the war on the left, erudite expression his sword and conservative principles his shield.
The official Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees states:
A judicial employee should refrain from partisan political activity; should not act as a leader or hold any office in a partisan political organization; should not make speeches for or publicly endorse or oppose a partisan political organization or candidate; should not solicit funds for or contribute to a partisan political organization, candidate, or event; should not become a candidate for partisan political office; and should not otherwise actively engage in partisan political activities.
But all of this only applies to activity done while holding the job. There’s nothing to prevent someone who has previously made a habit of expressing extremely partisan opinions from getting a job as a clerk to a federal judge, other than the moral sense of the judge hiring him.
Obviously to block anyone who has ever participated in any kind of politics, including those with side-hustles as conservative opinion-havers, from holding such a job would exclude nearly everyone, and be very stupid. If Hammer continues to express such opinions while in office, it would be different, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll keep quiet.
But it’s an interesting feature of our hellish modern political landscape. Hammer seems to treats his appointment to work for the federal judiciary as a reassignment from one front in the war against the left to another.
He thanked Ben Shapiro for “fighting for our cause”:
Ben Shapiro, believer that trans people suffer from mental illness, that racial income inequality has “nothing to do with race and everything to do with culture,” and that “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage,” a true inspiration.
He also thanked Erick Erickson for “staying unwaveringly true to conservative principle”:
And even promised to share his now-illicit opinions with Senator Ben Sasse:
It’s a little odd to watch Hammer put his heretofore extremely outspoken opinions back in the box for the duration of his term, as if everything he’s said up until now doesn’t count and won’t affect his ability to work “objectively” on the cases before him.
Of course, the idea of this kind of objectivity is a lie. Whether you’ve made a career of speaking out about the scourge of abortion or not, you still have opinions and biases. It’s a concern that has furrowed the brows of many Serious Journalism Commentators since Trump was elected—can reporters be objective while also decrying Trump? In those cases, I find it utterly stupid to think that a reporter hiding their opinions makes anyone better off, so if we’re going to ask that reporters be forthright, perhaps we should stop expecting judicial employees to unconvincingly pretend that their work isn’t political. It’s just a bit disorienting to see one so clearly approach this role as not a departure from the march of conservatism but a detour towards the same goal.
There’s another lesson in Hammer’s work. There is a persistent idea in the political and media classes that there is a division between Trump Conservatism—racist, dumb, populist—and the more intellectual, elite conservatism, of the kind that the National Review supposedly embodied before it turned full cuck. It’s not racism, you see, but sound logic and principle that leads intellectual conservatives to decry welfare queens or fret about Sharia law coming to Texas. It can’t possibly be bigotry if you cite Edmund Burke. This has always been a fallacy, and it’s never been less true than it is now. It is impossible to identify with the modern conservatism movement, to the extent that Hammer does and not be both a bigot and an idiot. You cannot be a guy who writes about Islamic jihad coming in over the Mexican border and also think you’re one of the good ones because you wear a bow tie and are sometimes annoyed with Trump, mainly for being too dumb and addled to achieve your horrid policy goals.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh described Hammer’s new boss, Judge Ho, as “extremely smart and thoughtful” and a “superb” choice. Ho has hired a clerk who is an open Islamophobe and anti-immigrant bigot, who treats clowns like Ben Shapiro and Erick Erickson as intellectual idols, who thinks that abortion is the same as slavery. He says it with long words published under his real name on the Daily Wire, rather than behind the handle @MAGAchud1965 and an eagle avatar, but the sentiment is the same. The story isn’t that Hammer has a job with our federal judiciary despite his horrid views. It’s that those views are well the norm for conservative “thought,” even at the most elite levels, and it is this conservatism, taking root in the judiciary and federal agencies, that we will be dealing with long after Trump leaves office. It’s Josh Hammers all the way down.