Ethics Observations On The Stanford Students’ Abuse Of Judge Duncan [Updated!]

I suppose on the plus side the recent debacle at Stanford Law School might make graduates of Yale Law School, Harvard and Georgetown Law Center feel a bit better about the utter ethics rot that has infected their alma mater. That’s really extreme “glass half full” reasoning, however. This past week, the Stanford Law Federalist Society hosted Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan at an event during which he was scheduled to speak about law and judging on the Fifth Circuit Appellate Court, discussing “controversial cases handled by the Fifth Circuit that present difficult issues because the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on them is in flux,” and taking questions from students afterwards. But mob of students set out to harass and insult him so that he could not speak. When Tirien Steinbach, Stanford’s Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, took the podium to supposedly urge the students to respect the right of speakers to represent views they object to and the right of fellow students to hear them, she sided with demonstrators.

It is undeniable that an increasing number of our most elite educational institutions seek to “educate’ students in the methods and ideology of anti-democracy, endorsing and encouraging the use of tactics that intimidate speakers and prevent the free advocacy of ideas as well as the unimpeded expression of thoughts and opinions. That this is occurring at elite law schools ought to set ethics alarms ringing, as well as liberal culture survival alarms.

I know this is no surprise, but the New York Times has not deemed the episode worthy of reporting to its readers.

Here is a nine-minute video that will give you a sense of what occurred. The flashing neon orange warning light is Steinbach. When she should have stepped in and made it clear that the conduct of the students was unconscionable, an embarrassment to Stanford, and breach of academic freedom and the principles of free speech, she chose instead to throw metaphorical kerosene on the fire. Over at Powerline, Stephen Hayward writes,

If Stanford law school genuinely cares about free speech, Tirien Steinbach should soon be looking for another job. … there were five law school administrators present who [also]did nothing. They should be summarily dismissed, too.

I concur. We shall see, but holding one’s breath in anticipation of this result would be perilous.

The most thorough description of what transpired is here, on David Lat’s substack, in a detailed essay titled “Yale Law Is No Longer #1—For Free-Speech Debacles: Congratulations, Stanford Law, you’re the new poster child for intolerance.” Lat’s reporting makes it very clear that this conclusion is warranted. Lat, incidentally, is a reliably progressive legal commentator who has been embarrassed by the mutation of his creation, “Above the Law,” into an anti-free expression, anti-American nest of far-Left propagandists like Elie Mystal. His condemnation of Stanford’s handling of the debacle is being widely quoted, and because he is far from a conservative shill, is having an impact.

Imagine if someone like Lat had been entrusted with the January 6 riot footage instead of established Fox News conservative ideologue Tucker Carlson. Yeah, yeah, I digress, but those defending McCarthy’s decision are suffering from tunnel vision.

Back to the topic at hand:

  • Steinbach had prepared her remarks, smoking gun evidence that she knew Judge Duncan would not be permitted to speak, as well as defeating any excuses for her statement on the grounds that she was improvising under stress. After reiterating Stanford’s policy on free speech (which was being violated, though she later claimed otherwise) she actually questioned the policy and suggested that it should be reconsidered. She then endorsed the hostility of the hecklers, saying that Duncan “literally denies the humanity of people.” (He “literally” does no such thing). She said that the FedSoc chapter should know that his appearance was causing “real pain” to people in the Stanford Law community, and that “she was pained to have to tell him” that his work and previous words had caused “real harm” to people. (Judge Duncan is not a supporter of  same sex marriage and much of the LGTBQ agenda.) “And I am also pained,” the administrator whose job it was to get the event under control said, “to have to say that you are welcome here in this school to speak.” In other words, he was welcome to speak, but she, the representative of the university, wished he was not!  She then admonished Judge Duncan for diverging from his prepared remarks, calling him  partially to blame for the disruption because he reacted to the protesters. She told Judge Duncan and FedSoc that she respected FedSoc’s right to host this event, but felt that “the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze” when it came to “this kind of event.”
  • In a reaction redolent of the sliming of Justice Kavanaugh, defenders of the treatment of Judge Duncan used that despicable section of  Steinbach’s  comments to justify the harassment of the judge, pointing to the fact that he became angry and expressed that anger. One of Lat’s sources told him,

He was heckled pretty relentlessly, but I truly can’t have imagined a worse reaction. He could have had a moral victory if he’d stayed on message, kept his cool, and delivered his prepared remarks. He even had a heads-up that the event was likely to be disrupted, so I would have thought that he would have had time to prepare himself to stay composed.

A judge is invited to speak at a law school campus and is prevented from doing so, having to shout over chants and insults. The school’s representative attacks him while she is supposed to be telling the students to shut up and act like adults and future lawyer. And the judge who has been silenced by a mob behaving like Lenin’s thugs then is criticized for not accepting it all and passively allowing the censors to triumph. To hell with that. It’s a Catch-22, of course. In a conversation with Lat, Duncan said,

“I have never been protested like that at any other law school, I have known of other conservative judges who have spoken at Stanford without any problems, and I spoke there in 2019 without any problems. So I was lulled into a false sense of security….You don’t invite someone to your campus to scream and hurl invective at them. Did I speak sharply to some of the students? I did. Do I feel sorry about it? I don’t.”

No weenie he. Good for him.

  • Dean Jenny Martinez issued a statement to all SLS students following this fiasco:

    Dear SLS –

    Most of you have likely heard about an event on March 9, 2023 at the Stanford Law School hosted by the chapter of the Federalist Society and featuring Judge Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  A video of a small portion of the event has been circulating online.

    The law school advised students who announced that they planned to protest the event of university standards and policies on freedom of speech, including the specific university policy prohibiting disruption of a public event. It is a violation of the disruption policy to “prevent the effective carrying out” of a “public event.” Heckling and other forms of interruption that prevent a speaker from making or completing a presentation are inconsistent with the policy. Consistent with our practice, protesting students are provided alternative spaces to voice their opinions freely. While students in the room may do things such as quietly hold signs or ask pointed questions during question and answer periods, they may not do so in a way that disrupts the event or prevents the speaker from delivering their remarks. 

    In the past few years, we have had a number of events with controversial speakers proceed without incident.  Other than someone who hoped to create a meltdown for the cameras to capture, no one can be happy about what happened yesterday. In this instance, tempers flared along multiple dimensions. In such situations, an optimal outcome involves de-escalation that allows the speaker to proceed and for counter-speech to occur in an alternative location or in ways that are non-disruptive. However well-intentioned, attempts at managing the room in this instance went awry.  The way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech.

    The school is reviewing what transpired and will work to ensure protocols are in place so that disruptions of this nature do not occur again, and is committed to the conduct of events on terms that are consistent with the disruption policy and the principles of free speech and critical inquiry they support. Freedom of speech is a bedrock principle for the law school, the university, and a democratic society, and we can and must do better to ensure that it continues even in polarized times. 


    Jenny Martinez

It is a fairly strong statement, though “However well-intentioned, attempts at managing the room in this instance went awry.  The way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech” is annoyingly weasel-worded. If Steinbach isn’t dismissed or demoted, I will regard the statement as worthless.

  • FIRE is on the case., sending a  letter to Stanford Law expressing its  concern over the Duncan protest. It should be concerned. Everyone should be concerned. Future lawyers and leaders of tghis nation are being indoctrinated into a belief that censorship is necessary and justified.
  • Finally, Ann Althouse jumped the blogging shark with this story. She defends the conduct of Steinbach,  arguing that what she said was “just fine.” It was not “just fine.” It was the opposite of “just fine.” How could a school administrator telling the speaker who was being shut down that she was sorry they had to let him speak be “just fine”? Ann’s commenters, to their credit, do not agree. She also wrote,  “The judge was Kyle Duncan, a Trump appointee. Here‘s his Wikipedia article where you will easily find material that explains the students’ hostility.”

So what? It doesn’t matter that he was a Trump appointee; it wouldn’t matter if he were appointed by Satan. Nor is the Wiki entry, obviously an attack piece. relevant to the issue at hand.

  • My conclusion is that this development is progressing rapidly, the news media is supporting it, Democrats are biding their time until they have an anti-speech and anti-individual liberties judiciary to crush basic American principles “for the greater good,” and influential thought-leaders like Althouse are behaving like its no big deal. I, on the other hand, whistled up Geena, who might as well be a co-author of Ethics Alarms these days…


Ed Whelen, who broke the story initially, writes,

I’m pleased to break the news that Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Stanford law school dean Jenny Martinez have issued a joint letter of apology to Judge Kyle Duncan for the violations of university policies on speech that disrupted his talk on Thursday:

“”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.”

Now the question is whether the DEI dean will face any genuine consequences. Here she is, admonishing the judge:

Somehow, I doubt that she will. Just a feeling…..

10 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Stanford Students’ Abuse Of Judge Duncan [Updated!]

  1. Back before electricity, when I was in law school at the turn of the ‘seventies into the ‘eighties, an appearance by a visiting federal judge was an august occasion. Students, fledgling lawyers, paid the highest amount of deference to a fellow professional who was at the pinnacle of the profession. Such events were a gathering of fellow members of a guild. John Paul Stevens made an appearance as a moot court judge and speaker. My, how times have changed.

    • Has anyone told the oh so smart Stanford students Judge Duncan’s appointment is for life, and they might appear in front of him at some point in their career on behalf of a client?

  2. SSDD. Here’s how Reuters began its article:

    Trump-appointed judge wants Stanford to apologize for disrupted speech
    By Nate Raymond and Karen Sloan

    March 10 – A federal appeals court judge appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump on Friday said Stanford Law School in California owed him an apology after dozens of student protesters including LGBTQ rights supporters disrupted an event he spoke at on Thursday.

    U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a member of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an interview said he was “offended” and “disturbed” by the “deeply uncivil behavior” of the students who derailed a speech he was set to deliver, as well as that of a law school administrator who he says “attacked” him in her introductory remarks…

    Yup. “Trump appointee”. That was the story. Not.

      • Right. If she’s an associate dean, I bet there are other associated deans who, of course, report to THE dean of DEI. All of whom pull down six figures annually.

        • Didn’t the Soviets call people like Steinbach “political officers” or political commissars?” They’d be placed in a military unit or on a ship to insure the political orthodoxy of the rank and file or crew. That’s what diversity officers are. They’re thugs. Thought police. They really should be in the campus police chain of command.

  3. The DEI industry is largely an Orwellian satire of the ideals it purports to promote. They suffer no diversity of thought or expression, no equal opportunity or treatment, no inclusion of those with unapproved opinions.

    Althouse’s take on the dean is not gathering much support from her commenters.

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