Texas Bar Application Adds Questions About 'Incivility' and Free Speech in Wake of Stanford Law School Fracas

Gun control protesters near the University of Texas, Austin / Getty Images
April 14, 2023

The state of Texas is updating its bar application to include questions about whether applicants have engaged in "incivility and violations of school policies," according to a letter from the Texas Supreme Court obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The change is a direct response to an incident at Stanford Law School last month in which students shouted down a federal judge.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) wrote to the bar in March suggesting the change, arguing that Stanford Law School graduates should "be made to answer, in writing, whether they participated in the shameful harassment" of Fifth Circuit appellate judge Kyle Duncan, who was subjected to vulgar heckling when he attempted to deliver prepared remarks. The bar responded in early April, indicating that it planned to ask all applicants "directly" about their involvement in disruptive protests.

Texas's board of bar examiners made the change after concluding that schools like Stanford—which did not discipline a single heckler—cannot be trusted to attest to an applicant's character. The state "has historically relied on law schools to report disciplinary matters that should be considered in determining an applicant's character and fitness for admission to the Texas bar," Nathan Hecht, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, wrote on behalf of the bar examiners, who evaluate applications to the bar. "School reactions to recent violations of free-speech policies suggest that reliance is not justified."

All lawyers must pass a "character and fitness" check that screens for values like honesty and civility. If those checks become more focused on disruptive conduct, they could make law students think twice before engaging in that conduct.

"Texas lawyers are expected to adhere to the Texas Lawyer's Creed," Hecht wrote, "promising to 'treat counsel, opposing parties, the Court, and members of the Court staff with courtesy and civility.' The admission process should examine whether applicants can be expected to fulfill this promise."

Stanford students told Duncan, among other things, "We hope your daughters get raped!" The new bar questions are the latest effort to impose consequences in Stanford's stead.

"I salute Chief Justice Hecht for his efforts to uphold the integrity of the Texas Bar, which is second to none," Cruz told the Free Beacon. "And by applying rigorous standards for new lawyers, it will remain that way. Other state bar associations ought to follow suit."

Cruz and Hecht aren't the only ones looking to leverage the bar against disruptors. John Banzhaf, a distinguished public interest lawyer with a long history of liberal activism, said last month that he plans to file bar complaints against the students who disrupted Duncan, some of whom, such as Denni Arnold, have been identified.

It's just one wave in the tsunami of backlash against Stanford, from both elected officials and Duncan's fellow judges. House Republicans are now pressing the American Bar Association to investigate the law school, saying it is not in compliance with accreditation standards that require it to promote free speech. And two circuit court judges, James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, announced this month that they will no longer hire clerks from Stanford Law School, broadening the boycott they began of Yale last year.

"Rules aren't rules without consequences," Ho said in a speech. "And students who practice intolerance don't belong in the legal profession."