Future Lawyers Who Are Afraid of Debate

, Richard Cravatts, Leave a comment

Something disturbing is taking place with increasing regularity at elite law schools. For the third time this year, a guest speaker has been rudely confronted by a mob of tendentious scolds intent on suppressing views with which they disagree.

Not content merely with expressing their opposing point of view, these campus brownshirts are so sure of their beliefs, so positive that their perception is the valid one, the only true one, that they are comfortable with suppressing the alternate opinions and ideology of those whose speech they seek to silence.

And they exert their unearned moral and intellectual superiority to silence ideological opponents because feckless administrators have tolerated this outrageous behavior—the use of what is known as the “heckler’s veto”— for too long now and are reaping the inevitable backlash.

The heckler’s veto is an unethical tactic used the advance one’s own beliefs by defeating an ideological opponent’s argument by silencing him, instead of having to offer a compelling argument of one’s own; someone with alternate views has his speech canceled or, if it is held, shouted down, disrupted, and jeered at.

This is precisely what took place at the Stanford Law School on March 9th when Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan was scheduled to deliver a lecture on the topic of “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” Instead of being greeted by a polite group of students eager to learn from a federal judge’s wide experience, Judge Duncan, who had been invited by Stanford’s Federalist Society (FedSoc), instead stood at the front of a full classroom with some 100 jeering, insulting activists who only purpose of attending was to silence Duncan and prevent him from speaking at all.

As he attempted to begin his prepared remarks, booing and jeers filled the room, with the less-than-eloquent brats screaming such clever taunts as, “You couldn’t get into Stanford!” “You’re not welcome here, we hate you!” “Why do you hate black people?!” “Leave and never come back!” “We hate FedSoc students, f**k them, they don’t belong here either!” and “We do not respect you and you have no right to speak here! This is our jurisdiction!”

More astounding than the insolence and behavior of the law students, unfortunately, a recurring problem on campuses nationwide, was the passive-aggressive participation of Stanford’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, who was complicit in the disruption of the judge’s lecture by hijacking Duncan’s speech by reading a written speech of her own she had obviously prepared. But her message was meant, not to mollify the woke disruptors in the classroom but to rudely chastise Judge Duncan and justify the student victims that DEEI diversocrats like her groom into full-blown grievance mongers.

Evidentially catering to that small group of woke law students who could not even abide the physical presence of Duncan on the Stanford campus, let alone listen to what they perceived to be his toxic views, Steinbach stepped up to the podium and castigated Duncan because, as she put it, “ . . . I’m uncomfortable and it’s uncomfortable to say this to you as a person. It’s uncomfortable to say that for many people here, your work has caused harm. Has caused harm.”

“We believe that the way to address speech that feels abhorrent, that feels harmful, that literally denies the humanity of people,” she continued with insults, “that one way to do that is with more speech and not less.” Steinbach is correct that more speech—in other words, diversity of thought and expression on topics of importance—is a good thing, exactly what universities seek to promote.

But jeers and booing are not “more speech,” and while Steinbach correctly noted that Stanford as an institution upholds the precepts of academic freedom and free speech, she completely contradicted herself when, in the same breath, she implored Duncan not to speak at all because of the alleged damage it might do to these sensitive law students.

“Is the juice worth the squeeze?,” she cryptically asked a confused Duncan. “I mean is it worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes,?” she continued. “Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that is worth this impact on the division of these people who have sat next to each other for years, who are going through what is the battle of law school together, so that they can go out into the world and be advocates? And this is the division it’s caused.” [Emphasis added.]

Only in the rarefied universe of coddled, intellectually lazy law students would these entitled scolds see themselves in a battle, especially when they cannot abide the mere presence on campus of someone with whom they disagree, let alone challenge his ideas, opinions, and background in a thoughtful and civil way.

The censorious Stanford Law brownshirts, along with complicit DEI administrators and their fellow travelers on other campuses, have created their own definitions of free speech, putting limits on it that are contrary to what universities say it is and should be, and classifying certain speech—that with which they disagree—as harmful, cruel, even “violent”—sometimes manifesting itself as “hate speech” because it might, in their minds, discomfort a member of a victimized identity group.

Last March, Yale Law School students seriously disrupted an event sponsored by the Yale Federalist Society, pounding vigorously on the tables and screaming jeers and slurs at the guests. The event featured Kristen Waggoner, lead counsel for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association (AHA), appearing together on the panel to discuss (ironically, it turns out) free speech issues.

Yale’s LGBTQ students had already mobilized their opposition to the appearance of Waggoner, particularly because ADF, they claimed in a flyer they distributed, “is an organization designated by the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] as a hate group” and that the Federalist Society’s invitation to Waggoner provided “a veneer of respectability [that] is part of what allows this group to do work that attacks the very lives of LGBTQ people in the US and globally.” Once it has been predetermined that the organization for which Waggoner is lead counsel was anti-gay, it no longer mattered what she would say at the event. The moral scolds at Yale Law School had already decided she should be canceled and forbidden from giving her opinions about anything at all.

Also last March, activist students at UC Hastings School of Law shut down the appearance of conservative legal scholar Ilya Shapiro at an event also organized by the Federalist Society. Shapiro, incoming Executive Director of Georgetown’s Center for the Constitution, it will be remembered, experienced the collective wrath and opprobrium of his own school when he tweeted comments criticizing Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman as the new Supreme Court justice.

So, in March, when Shapiro arrived to speak with liberal Hastings faculty member, Rory Little, at the event entitled “The Breyer Vacancy: The Rise of Contentious All or Nothing Battles for

Supreme Court Nominations,” activist students associated with Hastings’ Black Law Students Association (BLSA) had already planned to express their dissatisfaction with Shapiro’s views by shutting down the event and utilizing the “heckler’s veto” to silence him for what they believed were his ideological transgressions. During the entire 53-minute event, student demonstrators in the classroom, some holding placards reading “I Am Not Lesser,” “Support Black Women,” and “Black Women Matter,” blocked the podium while Shapiro tried to speak and screamed “Black lawyers matter” while pounding the desks and drowning out any speech. When Hastings’ Dean of Academics, Morris Ratner, pleaded with the students to let Shapiro speak and reminded them they were violating the school’s code of conduct, one unconvinced student screamed, “Remove him off the fucking campus, because that’s what we want.”

Universities, including Stanford, encourage vigorous responses by students and faculty to speech with which they disagree, including courteous protests outside the venue, the use of placards, sitting in silence at the event with armbands, or issuing flyers and other material encouraging attendees to avoid the event or read alternate information. But vocal disruptions—shouting, pounding on desks, jeering, using noisemakers, or otherwise interfering with a speaking event in a way that prevents attendees to hear the speech—all of those modes of behavior are specifically prohibited.

The Hastings, Yale, and Stanford law student demonstrators revealed a breathtaking display of pretentiousness and audacity, woke, identity-obsessed students who have taken it upon themselves to decide which ideas can be heard and which can, and should, be suppressed—all in the name of protecting the sensibilities of victim groups on campus. That is a dangerous notion, and one that contradicts at least the purported goal of universities, which is the unfettered exchange of many views in the “marketplace of ideas.”

Unfortunately, many on the Left believe that their progressive views are virtuous and moral, and those of conservatives are regressive, cruel, and unjust. The moral rectitude of these students and faculty is not only ill-conceived but startling and offensive.

Their ideology assumes, falsely, that some ideas are intrinsically superior to others and that only those deserve to be expressed; that these few law students have the knowledge and insight—about all areas of inquiry—to be able to assess the value of a speaker’s intellectual contributions; and that students should be able to vet and even “cancel” speakers chosen to visit campus—especially speakers who may be controversial, unorthodox, incendiary, or representative of different political perspectives.

Most importantly, as future lawyers, they will not be able to pound on a table and suppress the speech of others in the courtroom, including opposing counsel and a judge. They will not be able to only present their side of a case without having the other side present theirs. And the university is a place where the same decorum and procedures for promoting views, developing intellectual arguments, providing facts and research to support one’s opinions, and inspiring academic inquiry and scholarly debate are fundamental to the advancement of learning.

That is precisely why universities exist and why any attempts to suppress certain speech—because it is currently out of favor or novel or even controversial—are antithetical to what the university represents and why, either in a law school classroom or in a courtroom, unfettered free speech is paramount, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it, even “for the thought that we hate.”