House Republicans Ask American Bar Association To Investigate Stanford Law School Over Duncan Disruption

Law school may be 'out of compliance' with accreditation standards on academic freedom

Stanford diversity dean Tirien Steinbach / Vimeo
March 31, 2023

House Republicans are asking the American Bar Association to investigate Stanford Law School over the disruption of Fifth Circuit appellate judge Kyle Duncan, arguing that the law school is "out of compliance" with accreditation standards that require it to promote free speech.

Stanford violated that requirement, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce said in a Friday letter to the bar association, by allowing and even encouraging students to shout down Duncan last month. The committee emphasized the remarks of Tirien Steinbach, the law school diversity dean who took the podium from the judge and harangued him for causing "harm."

Law schools must remain accredited by the American Bar Association to receive federal funds. A review of Stanford's accreditation would directly threaten its finances, upping pressure on the school to sanction the disruptors.

"With our letter comes accountability," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), the committee's chairwoman, told the Washington Free Beacon. "We will not rest until we help restore the true intent and purpose of higher education."

The American Bar Association requires each accredited law school to have a policy promoting academic freedom. Stanford’s policy, outlined in its faculty handbook, states that "the widest range of viewpoints" should be free from "coercion"—a condition the letter says no longer obtains at the law school.

"In no sense can it be said that Stanford Law School adhered to its announced encouragement of the 'widest range of viewpoints,'" the letter reads. "And in no sense were Judge Duncan's viewpoints 'free from … internal or external coercion.'"

Having a policy, the letter adds, "implies that the law school follows its policy."

Stanford did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter, signed by Foxx and Rep. Burgess Owens (R., Utah), the chairman of the higher education subcommittee, comes amid weeks of damage control at the elite law school. Though Steinbach is on leave, Stanford has declined to discipline the students who disrupted Duncan, saying it would be unfair to do so given the "conflicting signals" they received. That decision has compounded the law school's public relations problem, with at least one prominent law professor, John Banzhaf of George Washington University, preparing to file a bar complaint against the hecklers.

"Stanford Law School's brazen mistreatment of Fifth Circuit appellate judge Kyle Duncan is un-American," Owens told the Free Beacon. "At a time when America feels more divided than ever, it is deeply disturbing to see how little this school and its students value free speech and open discourse—the very foundation of our democracy."