On Monday, 13 Trump-appointed federal judges published a letter responding to the plethora of student protests of Israel’s war on Gaza with a protest of their own: From now on, they will not hire anyone who enrolls at Columbia University—whether as an undergraduate or a law student—as law clerks. The letter, which is signed by conservative legal movement luminaries including James Ho, Matthew Kacsmaryk, and Brantley Starr, also calls on the school to expel the student protesters, dox the students in order to prevent them from getting other jobs, and fire the faculty who participated in the protests. 

And, according to them, these extraordinary demands are the “minimum” steps the University should take “if Columbia were serious about reclaiming its once-distinguished reputation.” 

The letter is challenging to take seriously in many ways because it is littered with half-truths, lies, and illogicalities. It claims that “Columbia applies double standards when it comes to free speech and student misconduct,” yet the only example it provides is literally imaginary: The judges state that they have “no doubt” Columbia would have responded differently if the protesters were conservatives who “view abortion as a tragic genocide.” Based on this made-up example, they conclude that the University is “favoring certain viewpoints over others” because of their “acceptance in certain circles.” Set aside, for a moment, the characterization of schools siccing armed police on students protesting genocide as a sign of “acceptance.” These are federal judges taking part in the time-honored social media tradition of making up a guy to get mad at.

Columbia is just one of dozens of schools where students are protesting in solidarity with Palestine. The judges explain their decision to single out Columbia by characterizing it as “ground zero” for the protests—an “incubator of bigotry,” they write, that has “disqualified itself from educating the future leaders of our country.” Coming from people who were granted leadership positions by perhaps the country’s most famous bigot, this assessment is deeply ironic! Deepening the irony, this isn’t the first time (or even the second time!) that Trump judges have pledged to blackball students for cancel culture-adjacent reasons: To date, Judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch have announced boycotts of Yale Law, Stanford Law, Columbia Law, and Columbia College. At this rate, soon the only school left from which to hire clerks will be a school of fish.

To justify their choice, the judges claim that former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan boycotted hiring Harvard Law School clerks, too, over his purported differences with the viewpoints of certain faculty members. One challenge with this narrative is that it is not true: Brennan formerly made a practice of hiring only clerks who went to Harvard, and later decided to stop hiring clerks from Harvard alone. Again, the only way these Trump judges can portray themselves as the righteous heroes in this story is to invent some villains.

And they sprinkle in some insurrection apologia. The judges suggest that the harsh punishments they recommend for the students and faculty are warranted because “citizens have been told that unlawfully trespassing on and occupying public spaces is a sufficient basis to warrant incarceration.” What they’re alluding to here is the January 6 attack on the Capitol. This portrays a deadly effort to overthrow a democratic election with all the seriousness of a senior prank, and makes it exceedingly clear that critical thinking takes a backseat to their political preferences.


Politics and power—not any actual concern about intellectualism or freedom from bigotry—is what is driving this stunt. If they were hiring from Columbia, these judges would have only hired fellow travelers in the Federalist Society anyway. Now, they’re just sacrificing the careers of a few future conservative lawyers in order to establish their right-wing bona fides.

It’s bad enough that these judges have all the wrong “facts” and all the wrong conclusions. But the most alarming aspect is the power dynamics on display: This buffoonery was carried out by life-tenured judges bullying students and schools due to the political views of some members of their community. Conservatives constantly bemoan “judicial activism,” but “activism” is what these judges are engaging in here: Their positions grant them an incredible amount of power, and they are using it to perform for their chosen audience of wackjobs.