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Legal Ethics

Hiring Lawyer Rejects Federalist Society Members—and Columnist’s Advice

Posted Dec 7, 2009 9:43 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A hiring lawyer from Greenwich, Conn., wrote to The Ethicist of the New York Times with this question: Is it ethical to recommend rejection of members of the Federalist Society simply because you disagree with their conservative politics?

The Ethicist, Randy Cohen, said politics should not be a factor.

“If candidates can do the job, bathe regularly and work well with others, you should hire them,” Cohen wrote. “Is it your position that only people who share your politics should be allowed to make a living? It was odious when membership in the Federalist Society was all but required for some jobs in the Justice Department; it is no more appealing to make that affiliation a bar to employment at your firm.”

The lawyer, who made recommendations on summer and full-time associates, had noted the review was intended to take account of judgment and personality. The Ethicist countered that reasonable people differ over politics. “I am tempted to believe that those whose politics differ from mine lack ‘judgment and personality’ and taste in clothes and finesse on the dance floor,” Cohen said. “But this proposition is unsupportable.”

The lawyer ignored the advice, Cohen wrote in an update. He or she believed all the applicants were qualified, and rejected every Federalist Society member.

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