The New York Times is reporting that the Heritage Foundation, one of America’s leading conservative think tanks, has started a “training academy” for conservative law clerks, who have to guarantee that they won’t share any information about what they’ve learned. According to the Times, the application material for the training academy speaks about “generous donors” who were providing “a significant financial investment in each and every attendee.”
Legal experts have expressed concern about this program. Groups like the Federalist Society have long worked to groom conservative law professors and judges, nurturing Supreme Court Justices like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. But the covert nature of the program as well as the promise of lucrative funding from unnamed donors go far beyond earlier attempts to shape the law for private purposes.
Sanford University law professor Pamela S. Karlan was among those expressing alarm. “Law clerks are not supposed to be part of a cohort of secretly financed and trained partisans of an organization that describes itself on its own web page as ‘the bastion of the American conservative movement,’” she told the Times. “The idea that clerks will be trained to elevate the Heritage Foundation’s views, or the views of judges handpicked by the foundation, perverts the very idea of a clerkship.”
Heritage Foundation spokesperson Breanna Deutsch was reticent when questioned by the Times. “It’s a private program, and that’s the way we’d like to keep it,” Deutsch said. “Word did leak out a little bit about it, which is fine, but it’s going to remain a private program.”
Update: on Thursday afternoon, the Heritage Foundation announced it was reevaluating the controversial program.