Law Schools Coddling Radicals Who Despise 1st Amendment
If there’s anything more inappropriately disrespectful than future lawyers shouting down a federal judge, it’s not-yet-credentialed (or supposedly educated) law students creating a “hostile environment” for their own professor and dean. Yet that’s exactly what happened Monday at Stanford Law School.
The drama began Thursday, March 9, when hecklers shouted down Kyle Duncan, a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, at an event on “COVID, Guns, and Twitter” hosted by the campus’ chapter of the Federalist Society. When Duncan asked school administrators to restore order, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) Tirien Steinbach commandeered the microphone and echoed student’s false attacks on the judge.
Law school dean Jenny Martinez wrote in a Friday email to the school, “It is a violation of the disruption policy to ‘prevent the effective carrying out’ of a ‘public event.’”
On Saturday, university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Martinez wrote Judge Duncan a letter of apology, admitting that “what happened was inconsistent with our policies on free speech,” and that “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”
On the other hand, associate dean of students Jeanne Merino sent a condescending email Saturday to leaders of the Federalist Society chapter suggesting that they were “having a hard time processing last week’s events” and needed counseling. She told them to “consider pausing their student organization social media accounts until this news cycle winds down.” The email also suggested that they talk to Steinbach (who participated in the disruption) and other administrators who stood by and refused to intervene.
Three left-wing student groups challenged the administration’s apology. The American Constitution Society (ACS) complained to the school’s president and dean that Duncan was the one who “made civil dialogue impossible.” The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) chapter wrote an open letter to the school community arguing that the protest “represented Stanford Law School at its best” because it “challenge[d] oppression and bigotry in all their forms.” Meanwhile, the Immigration & Human Rights Law Association suggested that apologizing for the misbehavior “has only made the situation worse.”
A much larger group of Stanford law students responded on Monday by protesting Martinez. She entered her constitutional law class to find the whiteboard papered over with flyers arguing that “‘counter-speech’ [a.k.a. shouting down your opponents] is free speech.” She exited the classroom to find hundreds of students, dressed in black with black masks, silently lining the hallways as she passed, creating an “eerie” environment.
Approximately a third of the law school turned out for the 11 a.m. demonstration, including about 50 of the 60 students in Martinez’s class. “They gave us weird looks if we didn’t wear black,” said Luke Schumacher, a student who didn’t participate. “It didn’t feel like the inclusive, belonging atmosphere that the DEI office claims to be creating.”
“The Stanford incident exemplifies the illiberal takeover of legal education,” wrote Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute. “Is it any surprise that law students act in an immature and unprofessional manner if administrators validate and goad them?”
“This sort of thing will only continue — and get worse — unless educational leaders (1) enforce existing policies against heckler’s vetoes by disciplining those who violate them, (2) instill a culture of free speech, toleration, and civil discourse, (3) stop indoctrinating and self-selecting via diversity statements and trainings, and (4) actively push back on the illiberal ideas that speech is violence and disagreements about public policy and legal interpretation are Manichaean battles between good and evil.”
Shapiro knows of what he speaks from first-hand experience. The academic was hired by Georgetown University’s Law Center in early 2022 — and almost immediately suspended over a tweet critiquing President Biden’s decision to only consider women of color as the replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Even after Shapiro deleted the tweet and apologized for his “inartful choice of words,” enraged students demanded his firing. He was eventually cleared after a four-month (semester-long) investigation, but then he promptly resigned because he expected the persecution to continue. “I won’t live this way,” he wrote.
While the investigation was ongoing, the Federalist Society invited Shapiro to speak at UC Hastings College of Law on March 1, 2022. But the lecture “descended into chaos: the speaker was unable to eke out more than a few words before students shut him down, chanting, clapping and banging on desks in protest.”
Shapiro surely felt reflux earlier this month when the NLG chapter at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law demanded that the administration cancel a Shapiro presentation on March 7 and threw a fit when the university designated “free speech zones” outside the building.
Barely a week after UC Hastings law students shut down Shapiro’s talks, 120 students at Yale Law School disrupted a conservative vs. liberal debate — on campus free speech, of all things — between Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Kristen Waggoner and American Humanist Association’s Monica Miller. They “jeered” Yale law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the debate, when she told the protestors to “grow up.” The racket grew so loud that it disrupted the class across the hall. “It was disturbing to witness law students whipped into a mindless frenzy,” said Waggoner. “I did not feel it was safe to get out of the room without security.”
Disgusted and appalled by the behavior of law students, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman emailed all his fellow Article III judges:
“The latest events at Yale Law School, in which students attempted to shout down speakers participating in a panel discussion on free speech, prompt me to suggest that students who are identified as those willing to disrupt any such panel discussion should be noted. All federal judges — and all federal judges are presumably committed to free speech — should carefully consider whether any student so identified should be disqualified from potential clerkships.”
Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said nothing for two weeks, but she finally admitted that the protestors’ behavior was “unacceptable” and “violated the norms” of the school, although she said the protestors did not break any policies. Stith wrote several days later, “Any formal determination that the March protest at Yale Law School did not violate Yale’s policy on Free Expression would set a terrible precedent at Yale and elsewhere.”
That “terrible precedent” is playing out in real time at Stanford Law School, University of Denver College of Law, and elsewhere.
There are more incidents. In October 2022, students at UNC Chapel Hill’s Law School inflicted a “partial shout-down” on another event hosted by the Federalist Society featuring an ADF speaker. In April 2018, protestors at the City University of New York Law School heckled and disrupted the first 10 minutes of a class featuring guest lecturer Josh Blackman, a conservative law professor. For those who are counting, that’s at least seven law schools — many among the nation’s most prestigious — where students have attempted to shut down the free speech rights of conservatives.
Besides the actual lectures that are disrupted, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) maintains a database to record attempted disinvitation campaigns. In addition to the incidents already mentioned, students attempted to block speakers from a campus speech or debate at Duke University School of Law (2020), CUNY Law School again (2019), Yale Law School again (2019), and Harvard Law School (2019) — all “from the Left.” It might be safe to assume these schools are no longer ideal environments for turning out modern-day Perry Masons.
Even by this (slightly different) metric, these incidents of censorship seem to disproportionately occur among the nation’s “top” law schools; perhaps that’s where students feel entitled enough to demand insulation from other viewpoints. But that’s not how America’s legal system works. In American courtrooms, two parties argue against one another in an adversarial manner. You can’t shout down the other side, and you certainly can’t shout down the judge.
“Evidence is rapidly accumulating that law schools across America are failing in their basic mission to teach students how to become good citizens — let alone good lawyers,” lamented federal judges James Ho (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) and Elizabeth Branch (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals). “What we’re seeing instead is antithetical both to the academy and to America at large. We don’t disagree — we destroy. We don’t talk — we tweet. We live in a culture of cancellation, not conversation. We don’t engage with one another — we expel people from social and economic life. It’s unsustainable — and, we fear, existential.”
This culture is coming, in part, from the students graduating from undergraduate universities as radical Marxist activists. In just the past 10 days, left-wing protestors have broken the law at three separate universities. Four students protesting Florida’s anti-DEI objectives were arrested at the University of South Florida last Tuesday for disrupting university business and clashing with police. Two students were arrested Friday at the University of Florida for attacking a pro-life display and assaulting a police officer. A black-clad, Antifa-style mob attempted to disrupt a Turning Point USA event featuring Charlie Kirk at UC Davis, with police arresting two protestors for spraying graffiti but making no arrests for a multitude of smashed windows.
Many of those students will graduate in four years or less, and many of them will go on to pursue graduate degrees, including in law schools. “What’s worse, what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus,” Ho and Branch added.
In fact, the Antifa-style actions on law school campuses sometimes spill over into Antifa-style action in “real” life. One of the Atlanta agitators arrested on March 5 and charged with domestic terrorism is James “Jamie” Marsicano, a law student at UNC who obtained a fellowship with the NLG last year. Marsicano identifies as a “white trans femme organizer” who helped to launch the anti-police group Charlotte Uprising and was previously arrested for assaulting a police officer in 2020. Another former lawyer, Urooj Rahman, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison after she threw a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle during the 2020 BLM riots.
Law schools should teach students to apply the law, not break it. And law school administrators have no excuse for coddling lawless behavior, when even the School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky at UC Berkley — the leftest of the leftists — refuses to tolerate it. “If you dislike a speaker who’s here, I’ll support you in bringing in whatever speaker you want. I’ll support you engaging whatever protest you want, so long as it’s not disruptive. If you engage in disruption, then you will be punished,” he said last year.
“Administrators who promote intolerance don’t belong in legal education. And students who practice intolerance don’t belong in the legal profession,” said Ho and Branch. “Law schools know what their options are. They know they can suspend or expel students for engaging in disruptive tactics, or threaten to report negatively on a student’s character and fitness to state bar examiners. … And if schools are unwilling to impose consequences themselves, at a minimum they should identify the disrupters so that future employers know who they are hiring.”
“Otherwise, more and more employers may start to reach the same conclusion that we did last fall — that we have no choice but to stop hiring from these schools in the future,” they continued. “No one is required to hire students who aren’t taught to live under the rule of law.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.