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Free Speech in Crisis at Stanford Law School

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Stanford University campus (Noah Berger/Reuters) Did Federalist Society students make it worse?

Stanford University recently threatened a liberal law student’s ability to graduate over a satirical post to an email listserv aimed at the campus chapter of the Federalist Society. Fortunately, the school has now backed down. This is yet another story of academic disciplinary systems run amok against free speech. The hero of this tale is the indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which fights for student rights to free speech, religious liberty, due process, and freedom of conscience on campuses across the country. Given the political climate on today’s campuses, that means that a lot of FIRE’s work is on behalf of conservative students, but as this case illustrates, FIRE will take on the campus censors to protect speech from all different perspectives.

The chief villain in the story is the university’s cowardly, brain-dead complaint system, the staff of which acted so unreasonably in this case that they even came under fire from the dean of Stanford Law School. The press, interested primarily in score-settling against the Federalist Society, has focused mainly on the involvement of the three law-student officers of the Stanford Federalists in triggering the disciplinary process. Those students did, in fact, have a legitimate reason to be aggrieved — but they crossed a line by invoking the disciplinary machinery of the university. There are lessons all around about how we should go about protecting free speech on campus.

The Riot Act

The controversy began on January 25, a few weeks after the January 6 Capitol Riot. Nicholas Wallace, a third-year student at Stanford Law, created a satirical poster purporting to be a Federalist Society event on “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.” The event claimed to feature Missouri senator Joshua Hawley (a Stanford Law alumnus) and Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, hosted by the Stanford Law student chapter of the Federalist Society.

The flyer promised to hand out “riot information” and give out Grubhub coupons, and explained, “Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system

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