11th Circuit judge pokes fun at Federalist Society critics in convention remarks

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Judge William Pryor

Judge William Pryor Jr. of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta. Photo by Kjerish, CC-PD-Mark, via Wikimedia Commons.

A federal appeals judge poked fun at a Democratic senator, Above the Law bloggers and other critics of the Federalist Society during opening remarks at the conservative group’s annual convention Thursday.

Law.com and Reuters described the remarks by Judge William Pryor Jr. of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta as mocking his critics. The talk led one online commentator, Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, to criticize Pryor’s remarks as “unbecoming” for a sitting judge, according to Reuters.

One target of Pryor’s remarks was Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who has denounced Federalist Society official Leonard Leo for his role promoting the appointment of conservative judges. Whitehouse has also denounced anonymous “dark money” donors who promote conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominees and fund amicus briefs.

Pryor joked that he met with Whitehouse to learn the truth and said the meeting happened at a beach club, a reference to Whitehouse’s membership in an exclusive club that one reporter thought was all-white beach club, according to Law.com. Whitehouse had said the club had “a long tradition” of being a family club, and it was working on improving diversity. The club and Whitehouse later said there were nonwhite members.

“We decided to meet at a private beach club or as he calls it, a long tradition on the coast of Rhode Island, where he insisted we would find no Fed Soc operatives in the shadows,” Pryor said in remarks available on video.

“Truth be told, what Sen. Whitehouse has discovered is more startling than anything I could have ever imagined. According to Sen. Whitehouse, for years, quote dark-money operatives lurking from the shadows have installed Supreme Court justices handpicked, handpicked, by the minions of far-right donors.”

Pryor said he was surprised to learn that voters, past presidents and U.S. senators only provided camouflage for the real operation run by Leo.

Above the Law focused on Pryor’s remarks about its current and former bloggers. Pryor described the writers in superlative terms intended to be sarcastic.

Pryor called Above the Law’s Joe Patrice “one of the great journalists of our time at a venerable institution for investigative journalism.” Pryor mispronounced the name of former blogger Elie Mystal and called him an “intellectual luminary.” And he belittled Above the Law’s Kathryn Rubino for an article that asserted that the most important bona fides for GOP judicial nominees are “ideological purity and pursuit of a far right agenda.”

Patrice characterized the talk as “four minutes about the group’s history and 16 minutes whining about all the negative publicity Fed Soc gets.”

Reuters talked to Pryor about his remarks. He said he is attending the Federalist Society for its debates about the Constitution and the law, which is allowed by the code of ethics governing federal judges. He acknowledged that some members of the Federalist Society have been involved in pushing for conservative judges.

But it’s wrong to characterize the Federal Society as “some kind of monolithic organization,” he said.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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