Former clerk rewrites SCOTUS contenders’ Wikipedia bios
A former law clerk for a potential Supreme Court nominee embarked on a Wikipedia editing spree over the past week, bolstering the page of his former boss while altering the pages of her competitors in an apparent attempt to invite liberal skepticism, according to a statement from his fellow clerks.
After POLITICO began inquiring about the changes on Friday, a group of former law clerks for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson identified the anonymous editor as Matteo Godi, another former Jackson clerk. Godi did not respond to multiple emailed requests or a phone call.
In a statement, the former clerks for Jackson — who requested anonymity in order to identify the online editor — said Godi has edited his former boss’s Wikipedia page “as a matter of course” for several years. They said Jackson was not aware of Godi’s edits on the pages of other judges.
Those edits display a pattern: The page for Jackson, seen by many as a Supreme Court frontrunner, was tweaked to paint her in a more favorable light for a liberal audience, while the pages for other potential nominees — South Carolina federal district court Judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger — were altered to make them potentially less appealing to a left-leaning audience.
Confirmation battles for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee may still be weeks away, but the stream of Wikipedia edits shows behind-the-scenes jockeying to shape the public’s perception of Biden’s likeliest nominees is already well underway.
The Wikipedia user “H2rty" — identified as Godi by his former colleagues — made over 20 edits to seven Wikipedia pages of potential Supreme Court nominees in the past week: Jackson, Childs and Kruger, as well as Wilhelmina Wright, Tiffany Cunningham, Arianna J. Freeman and Holly Thomas. The changes began on January 28, two days after news of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement broke, and continued until February 2. The user also edited Jackson’s Wikipedia page as early as May 2017, Wikipedia change logs show.
Through a D.C. Circuit court official, Jackson declined to comment on the edits. Media representatives from the South Carolina District Court and the Supreme Court of California said Childs and Kruger, respectively, likewise declined.
The most recent changes to Jackson's page appear to be an attempt at swaying left-leaning opinion in her favor. On Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, user H2rty made significant changes to the body of Jackson’s page, cutting a reference to Jackson’s position on an advisory board of “a Baptist school.” Descriptions of two of Jackson’s rulings against the Trump administration, both of which were reversed by the D.C. Circuit, were erased and replaced with a defense: “Ahead of her confirmation hearing, 'Bloomberg Law' reported that conservative activists were pointing to certain decisions by Jackson that had been reversed on appeal as a ‘potential blemish on her record,’ in order ‘to tarnish her so she won’t get picked for the Supreme Court.’”
The portion detailing Jackson's most famous ruling, a decision to require former White House counsel Don McGahn to obey a congressional subpoena, was also tweaked. The New York Times noted Jackson’s “slow pace” helped then-President Donald Trump “run out the clock on the congressional oversight effort” before the 2020 election; Jackson’s updated Wikipedia page seems to shift the blame for the ruling’s timing from Jackson to the D.C. Circuit court.
Previously, the page said the ruling was “subsequently” appealed “and was only resolved when … McGahn testified,” while the updated version emphasizes that Jackson’s ruling was “immediately” appealed, and “it took the full D.C. Circuit nine months to affirm part of Jackson's decision.” The case “remained pending before the court of appeals,” the updated Wikipedia page states, when McGahn agreed with the Biden administration to testify behind closed doors.
Edits to Childs’ and Kruger's pages by the user took a decidedly different tone, emphasizing characteristics of the potential nominees that call into question their liberal bona-fides. A passage on Childs’ tenure at South Carolina-based law firm Nexsen Pruet notes her “reputation for being an expert in employment and labor law.” User H2rty added that Childs worked on behalf of “employers dealing with allegations of race based and gender based discrimination, employee efforts to unionize, and other alleged civil rights violations.”
Kruger’s page notes she is “sometimes considered one of the swing votes” on the California Supreme Court. H2rty added that she “is seen as a moderate on the seven-member court — moderately liberal on civil cases, more conservative on criminal matters.”
In a section of Kruger’s page that outlined significant court rulings, the anonymous Wikipedia user added a note that Kruger’s decision in People v. Buza (2018) was “over a dissent by the more liberal members of the court.” Instead of describing the ruling as “leaving for another day a broader constitutional challenge” to another adjoining proposition, the user emphasized that Kruger’s ruling “declined to reach the constitutionality” of the proposition.
On Jan. 28, the user updated several other Wikipedia pages with a uniform edit: “On January 27, 2022, following Justice Stephen Breyer's announcement of his intention to retire, [judge’s name] was mentioned as one of the potential nominees for a Supreme Court appointment by President Joe Biden.”
The user made changes to other Wikipedia pages as early as 2016, including federal judge and former Yale Law School dean Guido Calabresi and federal judge Cheryl Ann Krause.
Godi clerked for Jackson from October 2019 to October 2020, when she was on the district court in Washington, according to his LinkedIn page. Prior to that he was a clerk for Calabresi at the 2nd Circuit.
Wikipedia volunteer editors often lock or "protect" pages related to people involved in high profile events. At the time of publication, no such change was made for the leading Supreme Court hopefuls. Wikimedia, the foundation that oversees Wikipedia, responded to a request for comment by detailing its policy of leaving editorial decisions to its community of voluntary editors.
“We do not write, edit, proofread, or determine what content is included on Wikipedia or how that content is maintained,” a Wikimedia spokesperson said.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.