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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Still more on Stanford (Updated)

 Steve (welcome!) reports (with a copy of Dean Jenny Martinez's letter) on the for-the-moment resolution of the Stanford-Kyle Duncan debacle. A couple of points.

Martinez recognizes that some protesters--those who waved signs, those who snapped or hissed, those who asked provocative or even obnoxious questions--engaged in protected counter-speech for which they should not be punished. The letter also references a "non-disruptive level of audience reaction" as protected and appropriate in the forum, an important recognition of the gradations at work. Within the space reserved for a speaker event, it is not a simple binary between silently listen, display signs, and ask questions on the one hand and complete chaos on the other; oral counter-speech remains permissible prior to the point of disruption (wherever that begins). FWIW, Judge Duncan has not made similar distinctions; he expressed particular annoyance with the snapping.

As to my point about asymmetry: The President of West Texas A&M prohibited student organizations from putting on a drag show (scheduled for next Monday), calling it "derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny" and akin to blackface, and insisting that, despite the adult audience, drag shows cannot be harmless. The student group has sued and should win the TRO allowing them to hold the event. (Interestingly, the President recognizes that his decision violates the First Amendment but says he does not care). So again--obnoxious counter-speech v. formal state prohibition on student speech. Yes, there are counter-examples on both sides. But a trend is developing. Plus, I wonder how Judge Duncan--and his insistence that speakers be allowed to speak without interruption no matter how offensive the speech--would rule if he is on the Fifth Circuit panel for any appeal in that case.

Update: Popehat weighs in and again gets everything right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 25, 2023 at 10:17 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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