As reported on the Wall Street Journal blog (via Leiter's law school site), the law firm of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge has rescinded its offer of permanent employment to Anthony Ciolli, the law student who co-directed the AutoAdmit message board. This post by an NYU law student details the truly horrific nature of many of the posts on this site -- calling them racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic really fails to characterize these comments adequately.
I don't have much to add to the discussion in the comments to these posts, except to emphasize a couple of points.
(1) I've written about the possibility that Ciolli might have a hard time getting through the character and fitness screening process when he applies for admission to the bar. I've also noted that courts tend not to take the First Amendment concerns of applicants very seriously, in a trend that goes back to a series of cases decided by the Supreme Court in the wake of McCarthy-era anti-Communist fervor. It should go without saying -- but seems to have been missed by many of the commentators on-line -- that whatever the merits of the First Amendment argument as applied to a state actor such as a state bar, there is no constitutional reason why a private employer cannot consider all sorts of expressive activities as evidence that a potential employee lacks the character sought by the employer. Law firms can reject applicants, or rescind offers, for all sorts of reasons, and turning a blind eye to repeated threats of sexual assault is certainly not the least weighty reason someone has ever lost a job. It's more than a little disingenuous for Ciolli to cry "First Amendment" at this point, because there are plenty of activities protected by the First Amendment which reasonable, decent people shouldn't engage in, like participating in Klan rallies or publishing magazine ads stating that Jerry Falwell's first sexual experience was with his mother in an outhouse. The point of the First Amendment is to block the government from making judgments about what constitutes reasonableness and decency for people; individuals and private employers, however, remain free to make and act on these judgments.
(2) Ciolli's attitude all along has been "who me? I'm not posting this crap -- I'm just providing a forum for the free and unihibited exchange of ideas." As soon as it became clear that this unihibited exchange had degenerated into a game of who could be the biggest racist, Ciolli had a choice -- either continue the site knowing that any value it had as a means of exchanging information about legal education was outweighed by the atmosphere of intimidation that had developed on the site, or take some modest steps to ensure the continued usefulness of the forum. Plenty of on-line discussion boards are moderated or have other ways of ensuring that the worst trolls don't ruin the forum for everyone else. When Ciolli and his business partner decided not to do anything about the vitriol on the site, they essentially endorsed a particular style of exchange. It's not unfair for an employer to see that endorsement as evidence that Ciolli doesn't take racist and misogynistic threats all that seriously. At the very least, a law firm would be justified in concluding that Ciolli is a troublemaker and relishes stirring up controversy. Given how (socially, not politically) conservative most law firms are, law students who like to raise a ruckus are running a risk of making themselves unemployable.
(3) One of the first things every associate in my firm learned was that second only to billable hours, the most important thing for an associate to demonstrate was good judgment. Judgment was never defined explicitly -- we were supposed to figure out what it meant. I could write a long post on the concept of judgment at a big law firm, but for the purposes of this discussion, one of the aspects of good judgment is not unnecessarily exposing the firm (or clients, of course) to risks. Associates who wrote boneheaded letters to opposing counsel, filed overly aggressive motions to compel, acted like Paulie Walnuts in depositions, and yelled at secretaries and paralegals were deemed to exhibit poor judgment. The firm tried to avoid hiring new lawyers who would create "judgment" problems, and in every class of summer associates there was at least one person who didn't get an offer -- or got one only after a long discussion on the hiring committee -- because of fears that this person would do something stupid as an associate. Given this way of looking at things, rescinding Ciolli's offer would be a no-brainer decision for the firm. There's no upside to having him around -- even if he genuinely accepted responsibility for his role in the AutoAdmit fiasco he would still be a magnet for bad publicity, at least for a while. And besides, there are plenty of smart, motivated recent graduates of good schools to do the work. Why should the firm buy itself a potential risk?