Once again, a conservative speaker had been shouted down by censorial law students who didn’t want him to speak. This time it was Stanford. Law schools are supposed to teach advocacy skills and a commitment to the rule of law. They should have and enforce vigorous free speech policies. Stanford should apologize to Judge Kyle Duncan, and discipline any students who violated its speech policies. Pictured: Stanford University Law School in Stanford, California. (Image source: Mx. Granger/Wikimedia Commons)
Once again, a conservative speaker had been shouted down by censorial law students who didn’t want him to speak. This time it was Stanford, last time it was Yale. Then it was Georgetown.
If the Stanford Dean of diversity, equity and inclusion gets her way, this censorship of conservative speakers will spread to other campuses. Among the worst offenders in this all-too-common censorship fest was Dean Tirien Steinbach. In what appears to be a written statement prepared in advance, she effectively silenced the speaker, federal Judge Kyle Duncan, by monopolizing his space. She sought to justify not inviting speakers who might offend the sensibilities of students who she claims to be responsible for “protecting” and providing “safe spaces” against uncomfortable ideas.
After paying lip service to free speech, she suggested reconsidering Stanford’s speech policy, repeatedly asked whether “the squeeze is worth the juice”. She questioned whether Judge Duncan, whose opinions and views cause “hurt” to students, should have been invited to speak. Her bottom-line message was that offending some students is worse than allowing others to hear from a controversial speaker. This from a high-ranking administrator who was purporting to speak on behalf of the university.
The real victims of this censorship were the students who were denied the opportunity to hear Judge Duncan’s full presentation.
An angry Judge Duncan responded, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m a life-tenured judge. What outrages me is that these kids are being treated like dogshit by fellow students and administrators.”
As the late Justice Thurgood Marshall once observed, “The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; They are two sides of the same coin.”
To her credit, the dean of the law school, Jenny Martinez, condemned the disrupters, writing, “However well-intentioned, attempts at managing the room in this instance went awry… The way this event unfolded was not aligned with out institutional commitment to freedom of speech.” She gave no indication of whether anyone would be disciplined.
To be sure, protesting, picketing and even brief heckling of speakers is also protected free speech, but shouting speakers down with the intent to silence them is not. It is explicitly prohibited by Stanford’s rules. Yet that’s exactly what occurred without apparent consequences to the disrupters.
The disrupters also attempted to shame the sponsors of the speech by disclosing their names and subjecting them to harassment. This suggests a possible response to the disrupters. Following the Yale disruptions, some judges have announced that they will no longer hire law clerks from Yale. Similar announcements regarding Stanford are likely. In my view, that amounts to collective punishment of the innocent along with guilty. Many law students from these schools do not agree with disrupting speakers, and they should not be denied clerkships. Instead, the names of the disrupters might be published and made available to potential employers, so they can decide whether they want to hire graduates with such intolerance for diversity of viewpoints.
I made a similar suggestion about publishing the names of Berkeley law students who voted to ban all Zionists — that is, believers in Israel’s right to exist — from speaking at 14 law school clubs, including feminist, Black and gay organizations.
As one who well remembers McCarthyite “blacklists,” I’m uncomfortable about publishing the names of student censors. But if they are proud of their very public efforts to silence speakers with whom they disagree, they should be proud to have their names published so that potential employers can have relevant information before they make hiring decisions. That would be far better than judges and other employers refusing to hire ANY students from the offending schools.
Law schools are supposed to teach advocacy skills and a commitment to the rule of law. They should have and enforce vigorous free speech policies. They should not have deans, like Steinbach, who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
Stanford should apologize to Judge Duncan for the dean’s actions and inactions. He observed that in his view, “This was a set up. She was working with the students.” Stanford should discipline any students who violated its speech policies. Most importantly, it should foster values of diversity of viewpoints, rather than merely diversity of race and ethnicity. Perhaps the law school should appoint a new dean of “diversity of opinions, tolerance for other views and free speech”.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and the author most recently of Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute, and is also the host of “The Dershow” podcast.