- On June 19, 2020
Earlier this week Judge Silberman on the US Court of Appeals sent an internal email criticizing Sen. Warren’s amendment to rename army bases/monuments (“madness!”). He added, “It’s important to remember that Lincoln did not fight the war to free the Slaves [sic] Indeed he was willing to put up with slavery if the Confederate States Returned [sic].”
After a full day of silence to this missive, a clerk, Derrick Petit, finally responded to the judge with grace and power: “Hi Judge Silberman, I am one of only five black law clerks in this entire circuit. However, the views I express below are solely my own. Since no one in the court’s leadership has responded to your message, I thought I would give it a try.” He notes the judge previously supported removing J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building, so it’s inconsistent for the judge now to oppose renaming military facilities. Read his email here. Only after the clerk sent the email did other judges comment, and one even gave Judge Silberman an out.
I applaud this clerk for standing up to a senior judge. I also agree with the comment of Sherrilyn Ifill, the President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “I want to read this as a positive story, but every time I think about it being left to a Black law clerk to respond to Judge Silberman I get absolutely furious. Listen, leaders of my profession: step up. If not now, when?”
I typically list concrete to-dos for one’s career. Here what the clerk did was so right yet so fraught with danger to his career. I commend him for following his moral compass, and I also encourage those in power to step up.