The closed-door “training academy” was aimed at a select group: recent law school graduates who had secured prestigious clerkships with federal judges. It was organized by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that has played a leading role in moving the courts to the right, and it had some unusual requirements.
“Generous donors,” the application materials said, were making “a significant financial investment in each and every attendee.” In exchange, the future law clerks would be required to promise to keep the program’s teaching materials secret and pledge not to use what they learned “for any purpose contrary to the mission or interest of the Heritage Foundation.”
The conservative legal movement has made bold moves before, and it has long cultivated law students and young lawyers, partly to ensure a deep bench of potential judicial nominees. The Heritage Foundation, along with the Federalist Society, helped compile the lists of potential Supreme Court nominees from which President Trump chose his two appointees, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. The two groups also helped identify many of the scores of Mr. Trump’s appointees to the lower federal courts.
According to the application materials, Heritage’s unnamed donors were to pay for travel expenses to Washington, hotel rooms and meals during the three-day program. The curriculum would cover, the materials said, “originalism, textualism, habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights and other substantive legal and practical subject matter.” Originalism and textualism are modes of interpreting the Constitution and statutes that are generally but not exclusively associated with conservatives.
A few hours after the New York Times published the article, Heritage announced that it was suspending the program.