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Friday, March 09, 2018

A quick word on the speech controversy at Lewis & Clark

A quick thought on the students at Lewis & Clark Law School protesting Christina Sommers earlier this week. I confess to knowing nothing about Sommers or why she generated such anger from the students. I was surprised by the heat the event generated--the discussion on the ConLawProf listserv became quite stark. People may have been a bit surprised to see this happening at a law school (recall Heather Gerken's argument last summer that the nature of legal education affects how students go about protesting). There was some discussion of whether the protesters' actions warranted school code-of-conduct charges, which must be reported to the Bar and can create longer-term professional headaches than they would for undergrads.

Having watched the several videos, it appears there were two groups of protesters, inside and outside the room and the building. So this case illustrates the vision of counter-speech and heckling I have been trying to formulate. The latter group was engaged in protected activity. Although they made noise and made it more difficult for Sommers to be heard, they were not interfering with her use of a reserved space in which one speaker had priority right. It appears they were in an otherwise public outdoor space (although I do not know the details or rules about spaces at L&C); if so, their speech in that space should receive equal footing with Sommers' speech in the classroom.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 9, 2018 at 12:32 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

They violated the code of conduct and are subject to some sanction for that. The proper violation and proper sanction depend on the details of the code of conduct for that school.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 12, 2018 9:29:00 AM

So do you think the three people holding a sign at the front of the room and chanting over an invited speaker in a reserved room should be expelled from the law school?

Posted by: brad | Mar 12, 2018 9:25:40 AM

I thought it was obvious that, by distinguishing the two groups, I was suggesting that one be treated from the other.

Actually, I do acknowledge that "unprotected disruption" exists. What I am trying to figure out is when it becomes "unprotected." Throwing around the word "disruption" cannot do all the work. Nor do I believe that making a lot of noise (or attempting to do so) marks the line.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 11, 2018 11:32:20 PM

And what about the former group? Your posts on this subject seem to consistently shy away from acknowledging that unprotected disruption exists, is a problem, or that anything at all ought to be done about it.

This:

> There was some discussion of whether the protesters' actions warranted school code-of-conduct charges, which must be reported to the Bar and can create longer-term professional headaches than they would for undergrads.

seems an entirely appropriate response to the first group to me. If I was on the character & fitness committee I'd certainly want to know about their contempt for the rules of their law school. That goes directly to the question of whether they'd honor ethics rules as a lawyer.

Posted by: brad | Mar 9, 2018 10:41:52 AM

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