Columbia Law voices confidence in grads in face of conservative judges' boycott

FILE PHOTO: People with face masks walk at Columbia University in New York City, where classes on Monday and Tuesday were suspended because someone on the campus was under quarantine from exposure to the coronavirus

By Nate Raymond and Karen Sloan

(Reuters) - The head of Columbia Law School backed its graduates on Tuesday, saying they were "consistently sought out" as it responded to an announcement by 13 conservative federal judges that they would not hire students from the Ivy League university.

The judges announced the boycott on Monday, citing the university's handling of pro-Palestinian protests and calling the Manhattan campus an "incubator of bigotry" in a letter to Columbia President Minouche Shafik and Law Dean Gillian Lester.

Lester said in a statement on Tuesday that Columbia Law graduates were "consistently sought out by leading employers in the private and public sectors, including the judiciary."

The lead signatories on Monday's letter, who were all appointees of Republican former President Donald Trump, included U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Elizabeth Branch of the 11th Circuit, who previously urged judges to similarly boycott hiring clerks from Yale and Stanford following disruptions of events at those law schools with conservative speakers.

But figures suggest the boycott will have limited real world impact.

Columbia Law School is not a major feeder into federal clerkships, with the vast majority of its graduates going into associate jobs at large law firms. Just 21 of the Manhattan law school's 427 juris doctor graduates in 2023 went into federal clerkships — about 5% — according to the latest employment data from the American Bar Association.

By contrast, the University of Chicago Law School, Yale Law School, and Stanford Law School each sent 20% or more of their 2023 graduates into federal clerkships. Columbia was 39th out of 195 U.S. law schools for the percentage of the graduating class that went into federal clerkships.

A law school spokesperson did not provide comment on Tuesday on whether any of the 13 boycotting judges had ever hired a Columbia Law grad as a federal clerk.

Federal judges hire two or three law grads annually for year-long clerkships that can lead to prestigious and high-paying legal jobs. Fewer than 4% of law graduates nationwide get those jobs, the ABA data show.


There was little sign of the boycott gathering significant steam on Tuesday.

U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, a colleague of Ho's on the 5th Circuit appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, noted that so far only two of the approximately 170 active federal appeals court judges had announced plans to join the boycott.

"I have had many outstanding law clerks from Columbia," Smith said. "I do not boycott any law school or its students."

Chief U.S. District Judge Randy Crane of the Southern District of Texas said he would not hire a student who participated in "antisemitic or pro-Hamas protests" but that he would also not support a blanket boycott of the school.

"Some of those law students are likely Jewish and have been the subject of threats and harassment," said Crane, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush. "I see no reason to punish them."

However, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, a Trump appointee in Little Rock, Arkansas, who recently traveled with a group of U.S. judges to Israel, said in an email on Tuesday that he was considering joining the Columbia boycott.

Judges need to "step up to the plate as leaders of the bar to help stop the spread of the virulent Jew hatred that is being normalized on college campuses and elsewhere across the country," Rudofsky said.

Retired federal judge Jeremy Fogel, who heads the Berkeley Judicial Institute at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law said on Tuesday that federal judges have "wide latitude" in clerk hiring and that the judges' boycott letter does not violate their code of conduct.

"That said, reasonable minds may differ as to whether statements of this nature are consistent with the dignity of the judges' office and the obligation of judges to be impartial," Fogel said.

(Reporting by Karen Sloan and Nate Raymond, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Alexia Garamfalvi)