In an announcement yesterday afternoon, Stanford Law School dean Jenny Martinez announced that Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach would leave the school to “pursue another opportunity.” Hopefully this opportunity won’t involve her boss jamming a knife in her back because that’s certainly not a perk she enjoyed at Stanford.
After edited clips showed law students protesting Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, the judge singled Steinbach out in a WSJ op-ed, and even though Duncan admitted that Steinbach did not prevent him from speaking and, indeed, willingly “turned the floor back over to me,” the school never really lifted a finger as trolls pilloried her. On Steinbach’s way out the door, Dean Martinez writes:
Although Associate Dean Steinbach intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, she recognizes that the impact of her statements was not as she hoped or intended.
In plain terms, “although Associate Dean Steinbach intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, the impact of her statements was not as a bullying federal judge and disingenuous media outlets hoped or intended so the school is pushing her out to appease bad faith actors.” That’s not an unfair translation because the students certainly didn’t misunderstand her intentions.
The person who did wrote a crybaby op-ed about it.
“[A]appeared to facilitate a shoutdown…” What in the convoluted, braindead legalese is that? This is the sort of language lawyers use when they’re lying.
That’s the Campus Rights Advocacy director of FIRE preening over Steinbach’s departure as a victory for “free speech” because she, again as Duncan admits, “turned the floor back over to me.” That doesn’t sound like someone impairing free speech.
Judge Duncan descended upon Stanford “looking more like a YouTuber storming the Capitol” to blast students as “appalling idiots” when they asked him direct questions about his published opinions that he couldn’t answer. When video clips of the event are shown in context, as opposed to the 10 seconds or so excerpted by right-wing media, they show law students asking good faith, civil questions and only getting loud and angry after he insults them for asking a question he refuses to answer.
Contemporaneous accounts of the event compiled in David Lat’s coverage describe that Judge Duncan “lost his cool almost immediately” and badgered a law student who asked a direct question about one of his cases to provide a cite and “When she eventually cited the one she was referring to, he said something along the lines of, ‘Was I even on that panel?’ When she told him he was, he just moved right along with his tirade.”
And that’s by design.
The CAMPUS FREE SPEECH CRISISTM scratches a lot of conservative itches. Young people are bad, fancy pants education is bad, student bodies more diverse than Jason Aldean’s town are bad. Any right-wing interest seeking free publicity could do a lot worse than ginning up a campus controversy. One recognized hate group has made an industry out of it. Judges looking to boost their profiles among the MAGA Supreme Court papabile insert themselves into these stories even if those concerns are deeply unserious.
Judge Duncan hoped to snatch some of Judge Ho’s glory with a nice viral clip of him fighting with a law student, even if he had to work overtime to promote it. When it came time to put it all in an op-ed, Duncan got to scratch the additional itch of “minorities and women who presume to authority are bad” to really push his SCOTUS shortlist quals.
About that… sorry, buddy.
And “authority” lords over the whole fracas. If you’re still wondering how “turned the floor back over to me” amounts to an assault on free speech, you have to understand that the folks flogging these “free speech” crises — from campus to Twitter to the investor community — seek to reshape the whole concept.
Traditionally, free speech rights protect a speaker from punishment for expressing an opinion. The outsized power of the government can’t crush people for speaking. It doesn’t entitle anyone to a forum (there’s an exception to this dealing with granting visas to foreign speakers with disfavored political views that doesn’t really apply). It doesn’t entitle anyone to avoid criticism. And it’s designed to protect the protester as much, if not more, than the officially sanctioned speaker.
The model undergirding all the crisis talk imagines a top-down, authoritarian model of “free speech.” Rather than a negative right to keep the powerful from silencing people, it sees an affirmative right for the speaker — specifically the officially sanctioned speaker with a fancy title and a stage — to speak without criticism. It exceeds “time, place, manner” restrictions and seeks to actively punish critics even if they protest outside or ask civil but challenging questions.
Reading Duncan’s WSJ piece is illuminating. He’s honestly flummoxed that Steinbach would even suggest that he bear any responsibility for keeping the dialogue civil. It’s not that she blamed him alone — she tried to bring the temperature down on both sides — it’s that she saw a second side at all. He’s angry because he had the stage and “free speech” made it her job to shut up everyone but him.
That’s a dangerous view of speech.
When Dean Martinez launched her obsequious effort to sell out Steinbach and the students to placate Duncan and his troll army, she wrote:
Indeed, the power to suppress speech is often very quickly directed towards suppressing the views of marginalized groups.
Which is true.
And Steinbach attempted to facilitate that speech. Instead, Stanford cracked down on Steinbach and the students, choosing to back the mob demanding students be more “compliant” and “mind their manners” while a half-wit bigot badgered them and called them names.
You know… in case you want to want to see “the power to suppress speech” be “very quickly directed towards suppressing the views of marginalized groups.”
Earlier: Stanford Law School Defused Free Speech Crisis By Throwing Minority Students Under The Bus
Stanford Law School Moderates May Be The Biggest Snowflakes Of All
Stanford Law Protects Their Speakers From ‘Institutional Orthodoxy And Coercion’ By Forcing Their Students To Undergo ‘Mandatory Educational Programming’
Federal Judge Calls Stanford Law Students ‘Appalling Idiots’ After Refusing To Answer Their Questions
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.