Fifth Circuit appellate judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, who was shouted down by Stanford Law School students as administrators looked on in silence, says the protesters behaved like "dogshit."
Now, in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Duncan is calling on the school to discipline the students who disrupted his talk and to fire the school’s associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, who stepped in during the event to chastise him and deliver what the judge described as a "bizarre therapy session from hell."
Duncan’s remarks come after nearly a hundred students at Stanford Law School disrupted his remarks in brazen violation of Stanford University’s free speech policies.
One source of the students’ ire was Duncan’s refusal, in a 2020 opinion, to use a transgender sex offender’s preferred pronouns. The Stanford event, which was sponsored by the law school’s chapter of the Federalist Society, got so out of hand that federal marshals eventually escorted Duncan from the building.
Tirien Steinbach, the school’s diversity dean, arrived on the scene when Duncan himself asked for an administrator to restore order. She then took to the podium and, in a video that has now circulated widely online, accused the judge of causing "harm."
"Your opinions from the bench land as absolute disenfranchisement" of the students’ rights, Steinbach said, accusing him of "tearing the fabric of this community."
"Do you have something so incredibly important to say," she asked him, that it is worth the "division of these people?"
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."
Neither Steinbach nor Jenny Martinez, the dean of Stanford Law School, responded to a request for comment.
The protest is perhaps the most extreme example yet of law students shouting down conservative speakers. A similar incident occurred at Yale Law School last year when Kristen Waggoner, a prominent Supreme Court litigator, was drowned out by hundreds of students protesting her views on transgender issues. Also last year, students at the University of California-Hastings disrupted a talk with the libertarian law professor Ilya Shapiro, shrieking and jeering each time he opened his mouth.
The tactics used against Duncan were nearly identical. Nearly everyone in the room showed up to disrupt the proceeding, according to Duncan and two members of the Federalist Society, and many of the hundred or so students on hand were holding profane signs, including one that declared: "Duncan can’t find the clit."
Each time Duncan began to speak, the protesters would heckle him with insults, shouting things like "scumbag!" and "you’re a liar!"
The din became so loud that Duncan asked for an administrator to keep order, according to video of the event. That’s when Steinbach, the associate diversity dean, delivered her remarks. While she reminded students of the law school’s free speech policies, which prohibit the disruption of speakers, she proceeded to stand by while students continued to heckle Duncan, videos from the event show.
She also expressed sympathy for students who wanted to "reconsider" those free speech policies, given the "harm" Duncan’s appearance had caused.
At least three other administrators—acting dean of student affairs Jeanne Merino, associate director of student affairs Holly Parish, and student affairs coordinator Megan Brown—were present throughout the event, according to Tim Rosenberger, the president of Stanford’s Federalist Society chapter. None of them told the students to allow Duncan to speak without interruption.
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.
The students appeared to have little familiarity with Duncan’s jurisprudence. Some accused him of suppressing the voting rights of African Americans, Duncan said—only to cite a case in which Duncan had actually dissented from the majority.
Other questions were less academic. "I fuck men, I can find the prostate," one student asked, according to Rosenberger. "Why can’t you find the clit?"
Duncan was escorted out of a back door by federal marshals, who told him, he said, that they were there to "protect" him.
The meltdown followed a weeklong pressure campaign against members of the Federalist Society, who were personally named and shamed by campus activists.
Over 70 students emailed the group on March 6 asking it to cancel the event or move it to Zoom, arguing that Duncan has "proudly threatened healthcare and basic rights for marginalized communities"—language Steinbach quoted uncritically in an email sent out the morning of the event. Her email, which also reminded students of the school’s free speech policies, nonetheless said the event would be a "significant hit" to students’ sense of belonging.
When the Federalist Society refused to cancel, students began putting up fliers with the names and faces of everyone on the board. "You should be ashamed," the posters read.
Other posters berated Duncan for opposing same-sex marriage, denying "Black Americans the right to vote," and denying "trans people the right to self-determination in court"—an apparent reference to a 2020 opinion in which Duncan referred to a male-to-female child pornographer using he/him pronouns.
The public shaming continued the day of the event. As Duncan was being whisked away by marshals, protesters encircled members of the Federalist Society and hurled invective at them, Rosenberg and another Federalist Society member said.
Such tactics have become par for the course at elite law schools. The Yale Law students protesting Waggoner likewise sought to shame the Federalist Society, which had invited her, with posters littered throughout the school.
"Through your attendance" at the event, the posters said, "you are personally complicit, along with the Federalist Society."
For Duncan, the attempt to shame individual students was the most disturbing part of the Stanford imbroglio.
"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, 3/10/23, 10:00 PM: Shortly after the publication of this story, the dean of Stanford Law School, Jenny Martinez, said in a statement that the disruption was "not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech," adding that "the school is reviewing what transpired." She did not indicate whether the students involved in the disruption would be disciplined.
Correction, 3/12/23, 2:00 PM: This story originally stated that Stanford’s dean of student affairs, Jory Steel, was present during the disruption. The person in the room was actually Jeanne Merino, the acting dean of student affairs, who is filling in for Steel while she is on a leave of absence. We regret the error.
Published under: Stanford University