US Law Clerks In Rare Anonymous Statement Decry ‘Genocide’ In Gaza

Decry Genocide in Gaza

On Wednesday, twenty-five federal law clerks issued a public statement criticizing the judiciary’s restrictions on their ability to speak out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians during its war with Hamas in Gaza. They also condemned what they described as “our government’s complicity in that genocide.”

Published by Balls & Strikes, a court news and commentary site sponsored by Demand Justice, a progressive legal advocacy organization, the statement was signed anonymously by the clerks. They expressed their frustration at being forced to be “passive observers of Israel’s assault on Gaza” under threat of being fired for engaging in public political activity.

“Although the rules of the judiciary prevent us from publicly advocating at this time, we write this letter as a small gesture of our love and solidarity,” the statement reads. Balls & Strikes editor-in-chief Jay Willis noted that his publication had verified the identities of all 25 clerks but published their statement anonymously for the reasons detailed by the signatories.

This statement marks a rare instance of clerks taking a public stance on an issue of public concern, albeit anonymously. Judicial ethics rules prohibit judges and clerks from engaging in political activity, which the clerks acknowledged. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the judiciary’s administrative arm, did not immediately comment.

Warning from judges

The clerks revealed that judges had warned them against participating in protests or other activities related to the conflict. “Some of us were even advised against discussing the conflict in our family group chats over concern that our words could be perceived as representing the opinion of the court for which we work,” they said.

Despite these ethics rules, the clerks noted, “many judges have not been deterred from leveraging their powerful positions and life tenure to weigh in on this issue.” One signatory told Reuters that the clerks likely would have remained silent if judges had done the same.

In their statement, the clerks cited a letter from May 6, in which 13 conservative federal judges declared they would not hire law students or undergraduates from Columbia University in response to its handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations. These judges, all appointees of former President Donald Trump, called for “serious consequences” for students and faculty involved in campus disruptions. U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a lead signatory, did not respond to a request for comment.

Trip by judges to Israel

The clerks also highlighted a recent trip by 14 judges to Israel, where they met with government officials and soldiers. U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, a Trump appointee in Little Rock, Arkansas, was among them and described the trip to Bloomberg Law as “about bearing witness to atrocities.”

“In that spirit, we, too, would like to bear witness: to the ongoing genocide in Gaza; to our government’s complicity in that genocide; and to the bravery of those resisting state-sanctioned violence to call for a free Palestine — from campus solidarity encampments to the Gaza Strip,” the clerks wrote.

Rudofsky referred Reuters to a letter he sent his incoming clerks in November 2023 concerning the conflict. In it, he asked them to confirm they had not done anything that could be construed as condoning the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel or acts of antisemitism or Islamophobia. However, Rudofsky emphasized that he did not care about their views on the viability of a two-state solution or the merits of a ceasefire in the war, stating there was “wide room for disagreement on such questions.”