Offenses of the Month, 2021
When 2021 began, I thought it was a year destined for quiet and change, one that I could devote to other literary pursuits. All I’d need to do, I supposed, was collect the few stories of the sort of offenders of the month who typically outwit themselves. Now, with 2021 just hours from seeping away, my report.
January to May
By now it’s conventional wisdom that it’s left-leaning professors, students, and political action groups who pose a threat to American free-speech traditions through their hypersensitivity and promotion of politically-correct culture. To a point, the charge may even occasionally be true. But every once in a while, events unfold in such a way to show that the aversion to mockery, derision, and put-downs is a universal feeling, affecting even stalwart libertarians who ordinarily exalt free-speech principles over free-speech outcomes. Witness the spectacle of Stanford University Law School’s moment of stupidity.
About three weeks after the lethal mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Nicholas Wallace, a third-year law student at Stanford, emailed fellow students a satirical flyer announcing a mock event titled “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.” The flyer claimed to be from Stanford’s chapter of the Federalist Society, a well-known libertarian organization, largely based at American law schools, that promotes conservative legal principles and judicial appointments. The flyer attacked, by name, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, both major supporters of the laughable claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The flyer’s tone was wildly over the top, advising students that they would be emailed riot information hours before the event, and calmly proclaiming that even though it conflicted with the rule of law, “violent insurrection can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”
In late March, Federalist chapter officers protested to the university that its members had been defamed and otherwise harmed in significant ways. On May 27, five days after the society pressed the university to act (or so the university said), Stanford officials notified Wallace that his degree, due to be awarded just fifteen days later, might be held up because of possible misconduct in circulating the flyers. Six days later, on June 2, Stanford relented. According to newspaper accounts, the university’s legal counsel told its law school administrators what you might have supposed law school administrators would already know, that Wallace’s email was legally protected speech. Stanford said it would reassess its procedures for holding up diplomas under such circumstances. Continue reading