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A Tale of Two Student Protests


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Many First Things readers are no doubt sadly aware of the disgusting treatment of federal judge Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School last week. Duncan was visiting campus to give a lecture sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society. But his talk was disrupted by students who heckled him for his rulings on LGBT issues. Not only was Duncan subject to the now-traditional vile personal abuse from the pampered students who inhabit the lecture rooms of the nation’s most elite institutions, he was also treated to a lecture by the dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion (who else?) on what an evil person he is. While Stanford’s president has since apologized, it remains to be seen if the apology for allowing behavior inconsistent with the school’s policies will lead to the obvious consequence: the firing of the DEI dean for her own bizarre rant. If a senior administrator who so clearly undermines school policy is allowed to continue in office, the apology is meaningless. 

Student protests and threats to speakers are not a new thing. There were student strikes at the universities of Oxford and Paris in the thirteenth century. Martin Luther, arriving in Leipzig to debate John Eck in 1519, surrounded himself with an armed cortège of Wittenberg students, anticipating trouble (or perhaps hoping to precipitate such) with the locals. Nineteenth-century Russia witnessed a surge in student radicalism. Dostoevsky’s The Devils provides a literary portrait of such, and the close connection between the term “intelligentsia” and revolutionary politics reflects this period. 1968 was not so much a novelty as a particularly intense example of a tradition. What Judge Duncan experienced at Stanford, while disgusting, is no innovation. 

Yet protests do not always need to be obnoxious, like the one at Stanford. Some weeks ago I was myself subject to a protest while speaking at another college. The protesters, upset at my views on LGBT and Pride issues, organized opposition to my presence. But this group was different than the Stanford mob. My protesters attended my lecture, listened politely and even laughed at my jokes, asked some good questions, and then at the end left the lecture theater to hold a gathering elsewhere on campus. At no point did I feel disrespected as a human being. Far from it. I actually appreciated the protesters turning up in person to hear what I had to say. And I further appreciated being asked good questions that pressed me to sharpen my thinking on a couple of points.

The difference between my protesters and those berating Judge Duncan is this: Mine had not lost sight of the fact that they and I both share a common humanity. Nor had they lost sight of the purpose of public discourse: to persuade opponents to change their views for the better, not to terrify them into silence. :snip:

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Inside Stanford’s disgrace

Scott Johnson

Mar 17 2023

Having closely followed events, the Washington Free Beacon has now posted an editorial on the disgrace of Stanford Law School arising from the shoutdown of Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan at the March 9 event sponsored by the Federalist Society chapter. It is a reported editorial that takes us inside the aftermath. Note the attempted intervention of Federalist Society adviser (former Tenth Circuit judge) and Stanford Law School Professor Michael McConnell. Judge McConnell advises chapter head Tim Rosenberger (who was interviewed by Megyn Kelly) and other Federalist Society chapter members to quiet down:


Stanford administrators are hoping this public relations nightmare will blow over if everybody, particularly the Federalist Society students targeted by the activists, would be so kind as to shut up and take this one on the chin.

The administration aims to run the operation like any abusive parent would: Don’t say a word to anybody about how you got that bruise, or else!

Perhaps most outrageous is an email sent Tuesday from Federalist Society faculty adviser Michael McConnell—the lone conservative on the Stanford Law School faculty—to the student group’s members urging them, in their interactions with the press, “not to speak out of anger and not to exacerbate the already tense situation.”

“Many in the media would like nothing better than to find sources and quotes that are inflammatory on one side or the other. This is not in your interest, and it is not in the long-term interest of the chapter at Stanford—nor of Stanford as an institution,” McConnell wrote. “In particular, I have heard that some outlets wish to obtain names and likenesses of protesting students. I suggest not cooperating with any such efforts.” With friends like these!

Why members of the school’s Federalist Society chapter should help cover up the misconduct of their peers and the administrators who collaborated with them is a mystery to us. But such a cover-up is surely not in the best interests of the institution or the legal system it ostensibly serves.

McConnell told us he stands by his guidance about press engagement, but did not respond to questions about what sorts of consequences might be appropriate for the mob that shut down the event.


The school’s National Lawyers Guild chapter has been stirring the pot. Have I mentioned that the National Lawyers Guild is the old Communist front group? Judge McConnell to the contrary notwithstanding, I doubt that discretion is the better part of valor under the circumstances. I think valor is the better part of valor.

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Inside Stanford’s disgrace: Judge Duncan speaks

Scott Johnson

Mar. 18 2023


What is it like to be the object of a “struggle session”? Judge Duncan recounts:

When I arrived, the walls were festooned with posters denouncing me for crimes against women, gays, blacks and “trans people.” Plastered everywhere were photos of the students who had invited me and fliers declaring “You should be ASHAMED,” with the last word in large red capital letters and a horror-movie font. This didn’t seem “collegial.” Walking to the building where I would deliver my talk, I could hear loud chanting a good 50 yards away, reminiscent of a tent revival in its intensity. Some 100 students were massed outside the classroom as I entered, faces painted every color of the rainbow, waving signs and banners, jeering and stamping and howling. As I entered the classroom, one protester screamed: “We hope your daughters get raped!”

I had been warned a few days before about a possible protest. But Stanford administrators assured me they were “on top of it,” that Stanford’s policies permitted “protest but not disruption.” They weren’t “on top of it.” Before my talk started, the mob flooded the room. Banners unfurled. Signs brandished: “FED SUCK,” “Trans Lives Matter” (this one upside down), and others that can’t be quoted in a family newspaper. A nervous dog—literally, a canine—was in the front row, fur striped with paint. A man with a frozen smile approached me, identified himself as the “dean of student engagement,” and asked, “You doing OK?” I don’t remember what I said.

The protesters weren’t upset by the subject of my talk—a rather dry discourse on how circuit courts interact with the Supreme Court in times of doctrinal flux. Rather, I was their target. While in practice, I represented clients and advanced arguments the protesters hate—for instance, I defended Louisiana’s traditional marriage laws. As for my judicial decisions, among the several hundred I’ve written, the protesters were especially vexed by U.S. v. Varner. A federal prisoner serving a term for attempted receipt of child pornography (and with a previous state conviction for possession of child porn) petitioned our court to order that he be called by feminine pronouns. As my opinion explained, federal courts can’t control what pronouns people use. The Stanford protesters saw it differently: My opinion had “denied a transwoman’s existence.”

When the Federalist Society president [Tim Rosenberger] tried to introduce me, the heckling began. “The Federalist Society (You suck!) is pleased to welcome Judge Kyle Duncan (You’re not welcome here, we hate you!). . . . He was appointed by President Trump to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Embarrassing!).” And so on. As I began, the heckling continued. Try delivering a speech while being jeered at every third word. This was an utter farce, a staged public shaming. I stopped, pleaded with the students to stop the stream of insults (which only made them louder), and asked if administrators were present.

Enter Tirien Steinbach, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion. Ms. Steinbach and (I later learned) other administrators were watching from the periphery. She hadn’t introduced herself to me. She asked to address the students.

Something felt off. I asked her to tell the students their infantile behavior was inappropriate. She insisted she wanted to talk to all of us. Students began screaming, and I reluctantly gave way. Whereupon Ms. Steinbach opened a folio, took out a printed sheaf of papers, and delivered a six-minute speech addressing the question: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

What could that mean? While the students rhythmically snapped, Ms. Steinbach attempted to explain. My “work,” she said, “has caused harm.” It “feels abhorrent” and “literally denies the humanity of people.” My presence put Ms. Steinbach in a tough spot, she said, because her job “is to create a space of belonging for all people” at Stanford. She assured me I was “absolutely welcome in this space” because “me and many people in this administration do absolutely believe in free speech.” I didn’t feel welcome—who would? And she repeated the cryptic question: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

I asked again what she meant, and she finally put the question plainly: Was my talk “worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes?” Again she asserted her belief in free speech before equivocating: “I understand why people feel like the harm is so great that we might need to reconsider those policies, and luckily, they’re in a school where they can learn the advocacy skills to advocate for those changes.” Then she turned the floor back over to me, while hoping I could “learn too” and “listen through your partisan lens, the hyperpolitical lens.” In closing, she said: “I look out and I don’t ask, ‘What’s going on here?’ I look out and I say, ‘I’m glad this is going on here.’ ” This is on video, and the entire event is on audio, in case you’re wondering.


How do you deal with  (young ignorant) Bullies? A smack upside the head comes to mind.

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Stanford DEI Drama Queen Dean Placed On Leave After Chastising Federal Judge

  • A Stanford Law School dean who berated a federal judge during a speaker event earlier this month was placed on leave, the school announced on Tuesday.
  • Federal Judge Kyle Duncan attempted to deliver remarks about COVID, Twitter and guns on the California campus on March 9 but was repeatedly interrupted by student hecklers.
  • SLS Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach responded to his request for an administrator to help silence the room, but instead took the podium to accuse Duncan of causing “harm” and questioned if his speech was worth delivering.
  • :snip:
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