Law schools should teach students to respect the free exchange of ideas, rather than reinforce their sense of victimhood, said Judge Kyle Duncan of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Duncan joined GianCarlo Canaparo, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, on the “SCOTUS 101” podcast to discuss a protest at Stanford Law School, which prevented the judge from speaking March 9 at a Federalist Society-sponsored event there. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Student protesters took issue with one of Duncan’s case opinions, in which he refused to use a transgender sex offender’s preferred personal pronouns.
“The vast majority of the students weren’t there to listen to a talk, but instead were there to engage in some sort of ritualistic ‘shaming’ of mine,” Duncan said.
Though Duncan was aware of the potential for protests against his speech, Stanford policies prohibit disrupting speakers, so he said he was shocked by the magnitude of the protests. Protesters made posters denouncing the judge and the Federalist Society students who invited him.
Heckling and catcalls prevented Duncan from delivering his prepared speech, and he was surprised that no administrator stopped the disruptions. In fact, Tirien Steinbach, the law school’s associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, interrupted Duncan to lecture him about the “harm” he’d supposedly caused. She suggested the judge’s presence on campus was not worth the subsequent pain and disruption.
The law school placed Steinbach on leave on Wednesday, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
The law students were not properly socialized to respect judges, Duncan said, adding that the students are wrong to think they’re “victims” because someone who disagrees with them is speaking on campus.
“The administration at some level is teaching the students that they are correct in their reaction, to the extent that they’re being taught that this is some component of free speech,” he said. “They’re being misled. It’s not free speech to shout down a speaker and abuse him or her with vile language and grotesque innuendo.”
“This is not a formula for a healthy legal system,” he continued. “It’s not a formula for a healthy civil society.”
Lawyers represent their clients, but also must understand the arguments of the other side, Duncan said. He said the Stanford law students appear unprepared to do that.
“Where I’ve been most effective as an advocate before I was a judge was when I took the time to listen sympathetically to the position of my opponent. Then I can understand better how to counter that and represent my client,” he said.
“The behavior that was on display, that was the opposite of all of that,” Duncan continued. “It was a complete repudiation of somebody whose perceived viewpoints are different from yours.”
The judge said he sympathizes with the Federalist Society students who are subjected to hostilities on campus.
“Those students are owed a deep and profound and sincere apology by the law school,” he said, adding, “You have simply invited a sitting federal circuit judge to speak on campus, and all of a sudden, you are greeted with this level of public contempt.”
Duncan, who has spoken on numerous college campuses, said he has never experienced anything like that before. He said that meeting Supreme Court justices left a powerful impression on him when he was a law student, and he returns the favor by speaking to students.
“It’s a privilege for us as judges to interact with students,” Duncan said. “Just to put a human face on the court. And by the way, I have no problem with a student asking me a tough question.”
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