Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Lessons For Law Students And Law Schools From The Stanford Free Speech Imbroglio

Vikram David Amar (Dean, Illinois) & Jason Mazzone (Illinois), What Law Students Should Take Away from the Stanford Law School Controversy Involving Disruption of a Federal Judge’s Speech: Part One in a Series:

National attention has recently been directed to the boisterous protest by Stanford Law School (SLS) students at a Federalist Society Event featuring Judge Kyle Duncan, a conservative Trump-appointed judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In response to the disruption of Judge Duncan’s remarks, Jenny Martinez, Dean of Stanford Law School, penned a 10-page letter to the SLS community explaining why what some students did ran afoul of Stanford’s free-speech policy, why the actions by those students were not protected by the First Amendment (assuming that Stanford, a private university, should respect First Amendment rights the same way a public university would have to, either as a matter of policy or by virtue of a California statute known as the Leonard Law), and what next steps SLS was taking to prevent recurrence of similar episodes.

Dean Martinez’s letter is quite excellent and adopts (what we think is ordinarily) the right approach to avoiding future replays: better education—rather than punishment—of the offending students. As Dean Martinez points out, punishing those students who crossed what is a “sometimes uncertain boundary line between permissible audience reaction and impermissible disruptions at an event” might be particularly difficult in the Duncan episode because a Stanford administrator present at the event sent, at best, “conflicting signals about whether what was happening was acceptable or not.”

A centerpiece of Dean Martinez’s plan to better educate students (as well as, perhaps, staff) about “freedom of speech [at Stanford] and the norms of the legal profession” is a mandatory half-day educational programming before the end of the current academic year. Dean Martinez’s letter says that she and her SLS faculty colleagues are (rightly) still figuring out the precise contours of this training and will offer more details as they emerge.

In the meantime, in a true spirit of institutional friendship, we thought we would offer our own thoughts about five topics that would be worthwhile to explore in some depth at this training session—or at comparable sessions other law schools might be inspired to hold. In this column and the next one, we itemize and preliminarily explore each of these five questions:

  1. What, Precisely Is “Shouting Down” of a Speaker, and Why Can Such Activity Be Prohibited and Punished? ...
  2. What About the Venerable Tradition of “Civil Disobedience”?

Vikram David Amar (Dean, Illinois) & Jason Mazzone (Illinois), Friendly Advice for Law Schools Seeking to Inculcate Proper Free-Speech Values and Understandings in Light of the Stanford Episode with Judge Kyle Duncan: Part Two in a Series:

  1. When and How Should Educational Institutions Themselves Speak? ...
  2. What Are the Best Ways to Register Disagreement With Offensive Speakers and Messages? ...
  3. What About Students Who Say They Feel Genuinely Harmed or Unsafe When Certain Kinds of Speakers are Present?

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