Judges Boycott Stanford Law School over Unpunished Student Disruptions
Two federal appellate judges have announced that they “will not hire any student who chooses to attend Stanford Law School in the future,” after the administration failed to crack down on students who disrupted an event featuring a U.S. circuit judge. The boycott aims to correct a lack of discipline among top law schools, who tolerate religious discrimination among the country’s future lawyers and judges, a deficiency one judge said is “tearing our country apart.”
Judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, respectively, have followed through on a boycott they threatened last month after seeing the response by the law school administration. “Administrators who promote intolerance don’t belong in legal education. And students who practice intolerance don’t belong in the legal profession,” they wrote.
On March 9, Stanford Law students heckled and loudly interrupted a speech featuring Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan at an event sponsored by the campus chapter of The Federalist Society. When Duncan asked school administrators to restore order, Tirien Steinbach, associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commandeered the lectern and joined in the students’ condemnation of Duncan for his work defending religious liberty.
After Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez apologized to Duncan over the incident, a third of the law school’s student body turned out to protest their own dean. On March 15, Ho and Branch wrote an op-ed in National Review, expressing concern about the state of education at Stanford Law School, and warning they could take further action if the administration failed to handle the situation.
In a March 22 letter, Martinez announced Stanford Law was taking four steps in response to the incident: 1) Placing Dean Steinbach on leave, 2) Providing additional training to all staff, 3) Programming mandatory education on free speech for all students, and 4) Adopting a more detailed disruption policy. Martinez ruled out disciplining students who had disrupted Duncan’s speech and provided several reasons defending her decision.
At an April 1 gathering of the Texas Review of Law & Politics, Judge Ho — who earned a bachelor’s degree at Stanford University — said Martinez’s letter was “just words,” and “the words in that letter are not accompanied by concrete actions.” Ho gave three reasons why.
“First, it’s not enough to have a policy. You have to enforce it. Rules aren’t rules without consequences,” Ho explained. “Law schools know what their options are. They know they can suspend or expel students for engaging in disruptive tactics. They know they can issue a negative report on a student’s character and fitness to state bar officials.”
“Second, at a minimum, law schools should identify disruptive students, so that future employers will know who they’re hiring,” Ho continued. “Schools issue grades and graduation honors to help employers separate wheat from chaff. Likewise, schools should inform employers if they’re at risk of injecting potentially disruptive forces into their organizations. Without that information, employers won’t know if the person they’re hiring is in one category or another.”
“Third,” Ho added, “it’s not enough to just promise freedom of speech. The Soviet Constitution promised free speech, too. But it was just words on paper — what our Founders called a ‘parchment promise.’” He said Stanford Law’s verbal commitment to intellectual diversity was compromised by its lack among the faculty they hired. “What message does it send when you say you believe in diverse viewpoints — but it’s so obviously a lie?” he said.
“These three elements are plainly missing at Stanford Law School,” Ho concluded. He arrived at this conclusion based on the fact that the letter, while talking a good game, “imposes zero consequences on anyone. It doesn’t even say whether there will be consequences if there’s a disruption in the future.”
Ho shared a point from Stanford Federalist Society President Tim Rosenberger:
“A lot of us who worked very hard to get to Stanford are kind of feeling like suckers right now. … You might have thought the law school was to teach you how to debate with people, and how to make an argument. But in fact, it turns out it’s to teach you how to think a very particular way, to hold a certain set of beliefs. And if you don’t want to do that, then maybe these elite schools are not for you.”
Stanford Law School is not the first elite school that federal judges have boycotted. Ho and Branch previously announced they would not accept clerks from Yale Law School after “Yale refused to impose any consequences when students yelled and screamed during a Federalist Society event featuring Kristen Waggoner.”
Ho said the “problems aren’t unique” to schools like Yale Law and Stanford Law, but these garner the most attention “because they present themselves as the nation’s best institutions of legal education. Yet they’re the worst when it comes to legal cancellation.”
Ho also clarified that disruption of campus events was merely a symptom of a deeper problem. “The real problem in the academy is not disruption — but discrimination. Rampant, blatant discrimination against disfavored viewpoints. Against students, faculty, and anyone else who dares to voice a view that may be mainstream across America — but contrary to the views of cultural elites.”
“Moreover, let’s just say it: The viewpoint discrimination we most often see in the academy today is discrimination against religious conservatives. Just look at which viewpoints are targeted most frequently at speaker events — and excluded most vigorously from faculty appointments,” Ho added. “We have to ask ourselves: If a law school openly tolerates and even practices religious discrimination, who would want to go to that law school? And why would we want to hire them?”
“We believe our effort will help future students — either by influencing the dynamic at Yale, or by showing these students why they need to choose other schools,” said Ho. “Imagine that every judge who says they’re opposed to discrimination at Yale and Stanford … decide[s] that, until the discrimination stops, they will no longer hire from those schools in the future. How quickly do we think those schools would stop discriminating then?”
“I’m concerned about what this is doing to the legal profession — and to our country,” said Ho. “Students learn all the wrong lessons. They practice all the wrong tactics. And then they graduate and bring these tactics to workplaces across the country. What happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus. And it’s tearing our country apart.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.