I wrote on Friday about the Federalist Society event at Stanford Law School (my alma mater and Paul’s). I won’t gussy it up. What happened is that a Brownshirt mob shouted down and shut down a talk scheduled to be given by United States Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan. It did this with the ostensible encouragement of a high ranking member of the Law School administration, Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach. When Judge Duncan asked for Dean Steinbach’s help in restoring order so that he could speak, what he got instead, for the most part, was a stultifying pre-scripted lecture sympathizing with the mob and upbraiding him for causing “real harm” by having the audacity to show up.
Welcome to elite education in America, circa 2023.
Yesterday, the Law School Dean and the President of the University wrote an apology to the Judge. As Ed Whelan reports it in National Review:
We write to apologize for the disruption of your recent speech at Stanford Law School. As has already been communicated to our community, what happened was inconsistent with our policies on free speech, and we are very sorry about the experience you had while visiting our campus.
In an obvious reference to DEI Dean Tirien Steinbach’s bizarre six-minute scolding of Duncan, their letter observes that “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”
Ummmmm, well, yes, that’s one way to put it.
Ed asked Judge Duncan for comment. He responded:
I appreciate receiving Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s and Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez’s written apology for the disruption of my speech at the law school. I am pleased to accept their apology.
I particularly appreciate the apology’s important acknowledgment that “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.” Particularly given the depth of the invective directed towards me by the protestors, the administrators’ behavior was completely at odds with the law school’s mission of training future members of the bench and bar.
It’s all true. If you act like a thug in court, your case is going to have some problems. Or at least that’s how it was when I was a courtroom lawyer. In tomorrow’s courtrooms, it might work out better, at least if you’re a thug for the Preferred Racial Class or Exalted Sexual Minority. Whether that will indeed be the courtroom of America’s future is one of several reasons this mob scene, and particularly what if anything gets done about it, is so very important.
Judge Duncan continued:
I hope a similar apology is tendered to the persons in the Stanford law school community most harmed by the mob action: the members of the Federalist Society who graciously invited me to campus. Such an apology would also be a useful step towards restoring the law school’s broader commitment to the many, many students at Stanford who, while not members of the Federalist Society, nonetheless welcome robust debate on campus.
Finally, the apology promises to take steps to make sure this kind of disruption does not occur again. Given the disturbing nature of what happened, clearly concrete and comprehensive steps are necessary. I look forward to learning what measures Stanford plans to take to restore a culture of intellectual freedom.
These are crucial steps. It’s necessary but not sufficient for Stanford to apologize to the Judge. The FedSoc student chapter, which the Law School betrayed, is obviously due an apology, as is every student who came to the auditorium in good faith to listen and learn, and left it wondering if they could get out without being shouted down or beaten up.
Ed makes one last observation:
The letter of apology is very tepid in its assertion that Stanford is “taking steps to ensure that something like this does not happen again.” We shall see what steps Stanford actually takes. Firing Steinbach would be a good first step. Identifying and publicly censuring students who engaged in flagrant misconduct would be another.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Are the Brownshirts going to win this battle or not? They got what they wanted — shutting down speech they dislike and boisterously if not exactly violently harassing the speaker. Will they have to pay a price that deters them, or will they get away with it? We all know what happened the last time the Brownshirts got away with it.
I cannot sufficiently emphasize how high the stakes are. This was Stanford University, one of the best in the world, and its Law School, one of the best in the country (and close to the hardest to get into). The higher education establishment and entire legal profession will take note of what happens now.
I made some suggestions in my original post. I want to make a few more now.
First, the role of Dean Steinbach needs serious investigation. How did it happen that she shows up in this melee with a prepared speech? Did she have foreknowledge? It certainly seems so. How did she get it? In the days preceding the event, what communications did she have with the Brownshirt leaders? What did she say and what did they say? The Law School needs to appoint an independent investigator with the authority to demand that Steinbach turn over her emails from the week before the event, with immediate separation if she refuses.
Second, the disruptive students, every one of them, should be charged for their violations of preexisting campus rules. They should have full due process rights in meeting those charges. But if found guilty, the punishment should match the gravity of the crime against the University’s core mission. Some will need to be expelled.
Third, we should understand that this is a teachable moment about, not just law school, but higher education writ large. Hence, two things should happen. Judge Duncan should be invited to return to speak as a guest of the Law School and the University, not just the Federalist Society. And the Federalist Society should be invited by the Law School to host a day-long symposium on “Free Speech and Its Adversaries.” At that symposium, those holding Dean Steinbach’s view of things — that for some types of speech (that is, conservative types), “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” as she said at Thursday’s quasi-riot — should have a full opportunity to make their case. In places like Palo Alto (and New Haven and Cambridge and Hollywood and Bethesda, etc.), she is far from the only person who believes it. If we have the right to speak — and we do and should enforce it — so do they.
It’s often said nowadays that the country needs “an honest discussion about race.” I’d agree, if it could actually be honest, which it very seldom is. But, as the events at Stanford show, the county needs something else as well.
It needs an honest discussion about the Brownshirts in our midst. It’s past time to begin.
P.S. Here is an extensive interview with Judge Duncan.
The most important consequence is that Steinbach be fired.