Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Chemerinsky: Stanford Law Students Violated Free Speech By Shouting Down A Conservative Speaker

Sacramento Bee Op-Ed:  Stanford Students Violated Free Speech by Shouting Down a Conservative Speaker, by Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean, UC-Berkeley):

Stanford Law (2022)There is no First Amendment right to use speech to shout down a speaker and keep them from being heard. This principle has again become important in connection with an incident at Stanford Law School on March 9. ...

This is not the first time in recent years that law students have behaved this way. A year ago, students at both UC Law San Francisco (previously Hastings College of Law) and at Yale Law School disrupted invited conservative speakers. In all of these instances, protesters defended their actions by claiming that they had the right to use their speech to “de-platform” a speaker and keep them from being heard. This is wrong as a matter of law and at odds with common sense. There is no reason why the protesters’ speech should be given priority over that of an invited speaker and an audience desiring to listen. Cases have consistently rejected such a right to a “heckler’s veto.” Indeed, if it were allowed, the only permissible speech would be that where no one cares enough to protest.

Each fall, in my role as dean, I send a message to the Berkeley Law School community about this. This year, my message stated: “Our goal is to be a place where all ideas and views can be expressed. The First Amendment does not allow us to exclude any viewpoints, and I believe that it is crucial that universities should be places where all ideas can be voiced and discussed. At times, this may mean that there can be an expression of views that we dislike or even find offensive.”

“Disruption of speakers and events will not be tolerated,” I wrote. “The appropriate response to an objectionable speaker is to invite your own speaker or to engage in non-disruptive protests.” I know some disagree and claim a right to shout down speakers. But the only way my speech can be free tomorrow is to support protection for speech that I dislike today. I also am hopeful that there is a benefit in hearing views different from our own, though it can be unsettling and even painful.

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