Heckler's Veto: Judge shouted down at Stanford law school with help from Dean of DEI (Update)

The Stanford Federalist Society invited 5th Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan to speak on campus yesterday on the topic “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” But as we’ve seen happen at other law schools, the speech didn’t go as planned. Ed Whelan wrote about what did happen on Twitter this morning.


There’s a 9-minute video which shows DEI Dean Steinbach giving Judge Duncan a lecture. “It’s uncomfortable to say that for many people here, you’re work has caused harm.” She then went on to say that Stanford supported free speech but added, “again I still ask, is the juice worth the squeeze?” “Is it worth the pain that this causes, the division that this causes? Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and Covid that that is worth this impact on the division of these people,” she said indicating the room full of protesters with her hands.

The claims of “harm” are SOP for woke agitators. Anyone whose speech you don’t like is automatically accused of doing harm even before they speak. The harm is usually vague and the connection to the speaker is often imaginary. It’s most often just a way to catastrophize something as simple as having a different opinion on a given issue. For instance, if you have hesitations about gender affirming care for trans kids, then you’re doing harm. It can’t even be discussed because the discussion itself is harmful. In almost every case, claims of harm are just a backhanded way to demand instant and complete compliance. And that’s not a coincidence.


Finally, Dean Steinbach suggested that people who didn’t want to hear the speech should leave and many of them did.

We don’t see what happened from here but David Lat is saying that the event ended 40 minutes early.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects on the left are defending the disruption of the speech as merely free speech by the students.

Dan McLaughlin tried to point out the problem with this, i.e. the heckler’s veto.


Anyway, as a long-time observer of this stuff, it seems we’ve gone from this never happens to this is fine. It clearly does happen. It happened at Yale Law School last March and also at UC Hastings law school a few days earlier. Then, as now, there were lots of people on left eager to defend the heckler’s veto so long as it’s being used against the right people.

What was the point of all this? Judge Duncan was invited to speak. He did not need the blessing of the DEI Dean or the students who objected to do that. Since most of the students who objected left before his remarks started, the exchange of ideas created by the hecklers was entirely one way, which again is how the woke prefer it. But ultimately, this kind of behavior has a big potential to backfire.

Update: Removed a line saying the speech didn’t happen because I don’t know if that’s accurate. Some version of the speech may have happened after the video ended but the early report (from David Lat) is that the event was shortened substantially (not to mention the time lost for the disruption up front). Lat is working on a story about this and apparently has some additional info so I’ll update this when I can.

Update: FIRE has sent a letter to Stanford Law about the incident. Here’s a portion of it:

FIRE is once again deeply concerned about the state of free expression at Stanford University after a student-organized Stanford Law School speech by U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan was disrupted last night,2 with at least one report that his remarks ended some 40 minutes earlier than planned as a result.3 The apparently successful exercise of the heckler’s veto by attendees determined to disrupt Judge Duncan’s remarks, at a Federalist Society-sponsored event, is troubling enough. But FIRE must also express our deep concern regarding Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach’s temporary removal of Duncan from the podium—against his wishes—to offer commentary appearing to promote censorship. Dean Steinbach pinballs between praising free speech, accusing Judge Duncan of “harm,” and asking him if what he has to say is important enough to justify upsetting students. She ultimately suggests Stanford may wish to consider abandoning its free expression commitments altogether to prevent the “harm” allegedly inherent in hearing views with which one may disagree in the future…

When hecklers disrupt planned speeches on a university campus, they not only infringe a speaker’s right to deliver their message, but also the rights of anyone in the Stanford community who wishes to receive that message. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall famously wrote: “The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin.”

Of course, not all protest during a speech is sufficiently disruptive; for example, protestors peacefully holding signs in the back of an auditorium or offering fleeting commentary are unlikely to be so disruptive as to prevent an event from proceeding. However, when protesters talk over a speaker or cause other disruption such that the event is functionally unable to proceed as planned, Stanford must use all the resources at its disposal to prevent this pernicious form of mob censorship. Would-be disruptors must know Stanford will not tolerate the heckler’s veto and that the university will take swift action to remove anyone who violates the university’s clear policies to that effect. Dean Steinbach’s comments caught on video make it woefully unclear as to whether Stanford will stand up for speech or not.


Update: The Free Beacon has interviewed Judge Duncan about the incident.

Duncan warned that what happens at Stanford, long the second-ranked law school in the country, behind Yale, is unlikely to stay there. “If enough of these kids get into the legal profession,” he said, “the rule of law will descend into barbarism.”…

Each time Duncan began to speak, the protesters would heckle him with insults, shouting things like “scumbag!” and “you’re a liar!”…

Eventually, one of the leaders of the protest instructed the students to “tone down the heckling slightly so we can get to our questions,” a video obtained by the Free Beacon shows. So began a contentious question and answer session between Duncan, who never got to read his prepared remarks, and his critics, who continued to disrupt and jeer as he spoke.

So he never did get to give his prepared remarks. No doubt that’s one reason the even ended so early. Judge Duncan said he was most upset seeing some of the protesters trying to shame their fellow students.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “I’m a life-tenured federal judge. What outrages me is that these kids are being treated like dogshit by fellow students and administrators.”

Update: And here as promised is some of the post by David Lat who also spoke to Judge Duncan. He also has information on what happened before and after the video clip above.

When the Stanford FedSoc president (and openly gay man) opened the proceedings, he was jeered between sentences. Judge Duncan then took the stage—and from the beginning of his speech, the protestors booed and heckled continually. For about ten minutes, the judge tried to give his planned remarks, but the protestors simply yelled over him, with exclamations like “You couldn’t get into Stanford!” “You’re not welcome here, we hate you!” “Why do you hate black people?!” “Leave and never come back!” “We hate FedSoc students, f**k them, they don’t belong here either!” and “We do not respect you and you have no right to speak here! This is our jurisdiction!”

Throughout this heckling, Associate Dean Steinbach and the University’s student-relations representative—who were in attendance throughout the event, along with a few other administrators (five in total, per Ed Whelan)—did nothing…

After around ten minutes of trying to give his remarks, Judge Duncan became angry, departed from his prepared remarks, and laced into the hecklers. He called the students “juvenile idiots” and said he couldn’t believe the “blatant disrespect” he was being shown after being invited to speak. He said that the “prisoners were now running the asylum,” which led to a loud round of boos. His pushback riled up the protesters even more.


It was at this point that Dean Steinbach got up and gave her little speech. Judge Duncan told Lat “She opens up her portfolio and lo and behold, there is a printed speech. It was a set up—and the fact that the administration was in on it to a certain degree makes me mad.” After her speech, Judge Duncan tried again to begin his speech but was interrupted until he gave up.

Not getting traction trying to give a speech, Judge Duncan moved on to the question-and-answer session, and the protestors quieted down enough to ask a few questions. The questions—and answers—were generally contemptuous. As the judge put it to me, while he’s generally happy to answer questions when he speaks at law schools, the questions he received at Stanford were not asked in good faith; in his words, they were of the “how many people have you killed” or “how many times did you beat your wife last week” variety.

At one point during the Q&A, Judge Duncan said, “You are all law students. You are supposed to have reasoned debate and hear the other side, not yell at those who disagree.” A protestor responded, “You don’t believe that we have a right to exist, so we don’t believe you have the right to our respect or to speak here!”

He was escorted out of the building by two U.S. marshals. Duncan says he didn’t bring or invite the marshals. They were tipped off by someone.

The Dean of Stanford Law has put out a statement on the incident which reads in part:

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…

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.


In short, the heckler’s veto is not acceptable at Stanford Law. It’s too bad Dean Steinbach, the other deans who were in the room doing nothing and of course the student hecklers don’t seem to understand that. And of course it goes without saying that Elie Mystal and other other leftists who were defending this behavior on Twitter don’t seem to get it either.

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Jazz Shaw 9:20 AM | February 29, 2024