Coming up upon the anniversary of Yale Law School’s much-publicized event featuring a chat from a representative of an SPLC recognized hate group, it’s increasingly clear that the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Federalist Society have worked out an act and plan to take the show on the road.
And, to be honest, you can’t blame them. The misleading narrative about the Yale Law event generated a lot of press coverage, notoriety for the conservative law students hoping to bolster their clerkship bona fides, the attention of prominent right-wing jurists, and successfully pushed the school into an Orwellian speech code. Not every administration is as gullible as Yale’s, but if the groups can achieve half of this return on investment at another school, it’s a bargain!
Northwestern becomes the latest law school to venture down this sad path, with its Federalist Society chapter announcing an event slated for tomorrow night featuring Erin Hawley, Senior Counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Now Northwestern students face the choice of publicly and peacefully protesting the event (knowing that the conservative media will characterize them as a violent mob regardless) or sitting on their free speech rights to protest (knowing that the conservative media will characterize this silence as affirmation of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry and use this as a cudgel against other campuses that do protest). Either way, student speech is chilled and the authoritarian model of free speech as the sole province of the speaker at the lectern is reinforced.
As a middle approach, Northwestern’s LGBTQ+ affinity group issued a statement (provided in full on the next page) lodging opposition to the event. Of all the criticisms registered in the statement, one detail highlighted and problematized the way events like these play upon — if not depend upon — the support of administrations supporting bigotry as a twisted form of “diversity”:
We are disappointed, but again, not surprised, that this event is also happening just a week after these same two individuals used funding from the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Engagement (DEIE) to host an event arguing for “civility.” As we noted to DEIE staff prior to the event, “civility” has long been used as a white supremacist dog whistle to silence marginalized groups from speaking out when they are being attacked. We expressed our disappointment at that time, and express it again now, that these two students, who actively harmed NLaw’s LGBTQ+ community just last year, received DEIE’s funding and institutional weight to create a preemptive shield from pushback for an event like last year’s Josh Hammer event––an event frustratingly similar to the one later this week with Erin Hawley.
There’s that “civility” again! The Federalist Society is all over the concept these days, but as this statement notes, it’s awfully curious that talks about the importance of being civil showcase professors who use racial slurs in class despite being asked to stop. It’s not that all conversations about civility intend to silence marginalized groups, but when civility talk gets a spotlight, it’s usually because someone is hoping to get well-meaning folks to look away when the silencing starts.
It’s another aspect of the authoritarian model of free speech: the speakers with microphones aren’t raising their voices or — by definition — speaking out of turn, so I guess they’re the civil ones!
Generally speaking, law schools shouldn’t get in the business of barring speakers, but they should have a corresponding and greater obligation not to get in the business of squelching protest within appropriate time, place, and manner provisions. Administrations need to take a clear stand that they aren’t going to put any thumbs on the scale, refuse to shackle peaceful protests, and not be bullied by Fox News or the Washington Free Beacon or whoever tries to paint them as evil for respecting speech.
And if this leads to FedSoc chapters deplatforming a hate group, it’s not a blow to free speech or academic discourse — in fact, it advances the discussion. It moves past a static fixation on ideas that already turned up bankrupt at the marketplace of ideas and allows future events to focus on narrower, more nuanced issues. By way of analogy, imagine if we could see public debates about climate change focused on the efficacy of a carbon tax without every discussion requiring one of the 5% of scientists who think warming is an illusion caused by unicorn farts. We don’t have to hamstring every conversation by putting outdated ideas on a pedestal.
FedSoc probably isn’t going to do that since, as Judge Ho’s response to the Yale incident proves, the trolling is the point. But law schools don’t need to help them champion bigotry against other students. That would actually be the civil thing to do.
Earlier: Another FedSoc Chapter Invites Recognized Hate Group To Speak… So This Is Going To Be A Trend
Yale Law School Had So Much Fun The First Time, They’ve Brought Recognized Hate Group Back To Campus!
Paul Clement Joins White Law Professor Who Uses The N-Word In Class… To Call For ‘Civil Discourse’
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.