This weekend, the legal world’s most obnoxious people are once again gathering together for the Federalist Society’s annual National Lawyers Convention in Washington, D.C. On Thursday morning, William Pryor, who serves as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, kicked off the festivities with an opening speech that took aim at anyone who has ever dared to critique the Federalist Society. At one point in his monologue, Pryor referred to his tour of the group’s critics as an “odyssey”; the true burden fell on the attendees, however, who had to sit politely through his attempts to be funny in public.
Pryor was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2005. He made headlines last year for hiring former Turning Point USA employee Crystal Clanton as a law clerk for the 2023-2024 term. As reported by Above the Law’s Kathryn Rubino, among others, Clanton herself became infamous for texting her TPUSA co-workers “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE,” a history that either didn’t bother Pryor or gave him more reason to hire her.
In his address, Pryor made clear that he hasn’t forgotten Rubino or her reporting, quoting her description of the Supreme Court’s last term as a “hellscape.” “If you’re a judge, this convention offers you a unique educational opportunity to get ahead of the curve for planning the sequel: Hellscape II,” he said, a punchline that was meant to refer to Rubino and not to his delivery.
Much like Supreme Court Justices Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas, who have grown fond of griping about media coverage of the Court that they don’t like, Pryor took shots at a wide array of left-of-center legal pundits: Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, UCLA law professor and occasional commentator Rick Hasen, and The Nation’s Elie Mystal, whom Pryor singled out as an “intellectual luminary” before pausing for obedient laughter. Pryor also read from Balls & Strikes editor-in-chief Jay Willis’s essay about last year’s FedSoc convention, which described the event as “a three-day festival of conservative legal movement luminaries explaining that the correct schools of jurisprudential thought are those that yield the conservative legal movement’s preferred policy outcomes.” For some reason, Pryor omitted the part that discussed the organization’s curious reluctance to disavow its associates who participated in the January 6 coup attempt.
Thank you to Judge Bill Pryor for reading @ballsstrikes, we honestly had no idea you knew how to read pic.twitter.com/5JVOyVeePI
— Balls & Strikes (@ballsstrikes) November 10, 2022
Senators also found themselves in Pryor’s line of fire, particularly Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. Pryor scoffed at Whitehouse for his work exposing the links between the Federalist Society, conservative dark money, and Trump-era judicial nominations. “Little did I know that millions of American voters, the past president of the United States and the United States senators only provided camouflage for the real operation,” he said. Again, the fact that Trump picked his Supreme Court nominees from a list put together by longtime FedSoc executive Leonard Leo did not make the speech’s final cut.
Pryor’s nightmare standup comedy routine almost certainly runs afoul of the code of conduct for federal judges, which, among other things, requires them to steer clear of doing anything that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a “judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired.” Pryor, however, does not care about any of this. Like any Republican politician or Fox News guest with a captive audience and mic in his hand, there is nothing more important to him than telling some jokes that trigger some libs. If only he were better at it.