Update: Unanswered and Important Questions About How a Former Turning Point Employee Ended up Living in the Thomas' Home and Working in Judge Bill Pryor's Chambers
As I've blogged about before, in 2017, according to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, an employee of Turning Point USA, Crystal Clanton, sent a text to a friend which said, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like f**k them all.” She was forced to leave the far, far, right Charlie Kirk organization and also signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding the firing.
Before that, though, she said "I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager." There was no explicit denial and definitely no apology. I want to say before we get into the troubling details of what happened next that had she fully apologized and owned her mistakes the story would be over (for me at least).
Somehow, shortly after Clanton left Turning Point, she ended up living in Justice Thomas's house. She allegedly got paid for helping Ginny Thomas with social media work then enrolled at Antonin Scalia Law School. From there she obtained two clerkships, one with a district court judge in Alabama, Cory Maze, and then with the Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit, William Pryor. Justice Thomas admits he suggested to Judge Pryor that he hire Clanton.
In related news, Judge Pryor has sent at least 14 of his clerks to Justice Thomas. And, Justice Thomas has said, “It is certainly my intention to consider her for a clerkship should she perform as I expect and excel in her clerkships.”
That a person with that history would end up living with the Thomases for about a year and then secure a clerkship for Judge Pryor was big news reported in many media outlets. According to Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee filed an ethics complaint and the matter was assigned to the 2nd Circuit because the 11th Circuit had an obvious conflict.
Chief Judge Debra Livingston dismissed the complaint summarily without appointing a special committee to look into the facts. Judge Livingston did not examine the underlying question of whether Clanton sent the racist texts. Instead, she found only that Pryor and Maze "performed all of the due diligence that a responsible judge would undertake" before hiring a law clerk.
The Second Circuit Judicial Council ratified Judge Livingston's findings but also, according to Marcus, said this: "we need not and do not consider whether the information the [judges] elicited and received regarding their hiring decisions was accurate." What? Why not?
That investigation happened so quickly and was done so poorly that eventually House Democrats complained to the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees the disciplinary system. The Committee ordered the Second Circuit to name a special committee because “an appropriate evaluation of the judges' conduct cannot be accomplished without findings of fact as to: (1) whether the candidate made the statements attributed to her (or the substance of them); and (2) what the candidate told [Judges Pryor and Maze] about them.” Clanton, the panel noted, “has never publicly denied the allegations,” and “there are numerous individuals with first-hand knowledge of the candidate’s alleged conduct.”
What happened next is truly shocking. Over a year later, the Second Circuit issued its final ruling. Both Judge Maze and Judge Pryor argued that the Judicial Conference had no authority to require the Second Circuit to reopen the investigation. The Second Circuit agreed and closed the investigation without doing any more fact-finding. That decision said the following:
In light of the significant question raised by the Subject Judges as to the statutory authority of the JC&D Committee to issue its July 8, 2022, directive, the Second Circuit Judicial Council voted unanimously to seek guidance from the Judicial Conference of the United States. On June 28, 2023, the Judicial Council received such guidance from the Executive Committee, acting on behalf of the Judicial Conference. Having reviewed the Executive Committee’s guidance as to the scope of this Council’s discretion and consistent with this guidance, the Judicial Council unanimously declines to reconsider the Council’s order of January 13, 2022.
The order nowhere discusses what exactly the "guidance" from the Executive Committee said. We are left to guess.
One side note must be mentioned. Years after Turning Point fired Clanton, Kirk changed his story and said that an employee of his had been fired around the time Mayer was sent the text messages for forging text messages. But that excuse did not air in 2017 and more importantly, Kirk has never said, and neither has Clanton, Judge Thomas, nor Judge Pryor, that this mysterious employee faked her racist message. If that were true, just say it. No one has. That part of this story looks to be just carefully planned distraction.
So, here are five important unanswered sets of questions about this entire sordid affair.
1) How did Clanton end up living with the Thomases? Did Charlie Kirk send her to them? Why would they take in a fired employee accused of being too racist for what is an almost-off-the-scale far right organization?
2) What was the mysterious guidance given to the Second Circuit about its lack of jurisdiction to reopen the investigation? And why did the subsequent order dismissing the investigation take over a year to write?
3) The Council reports directly to Chief Justice Roberts. Did he sign on to this?
4) Judge Pryor is a feeder judge to Justice Thomas and the other justices. He has his pick of the most talented conservative (and maybe non-conservative) students at the most elite schools. Why go completely out of your way to hire this woman who allegedly said "I hate Black people?"
5) Given number 4, why would Judges Pryor and Maze seek to terminate the investigation without it reaching the merits? Don't they want to give the public a full explanation? If not, why not?
So many unanswered questions by so many different people.
Are the Thomases and Judges Pryor and Maze hiding something or do they just want to show the world they can hire a Turning Point USA former employee who allegedly said, "I hate Black people" and there's nothing anyone can do about it?
Neither answer would be a good one.
To be continued....