Jeh Johnson Withdraws As USC Law Graduation Speaker After Protests

As many of you know, I have long lamented the rising intolerance shown at colleges and universities over free speech. Both faculty and students now regularly fight to prevent people from speaking rather than allow a diverse array of views and experiences on campuses. Fortunately, most law schools have sufficient free speech advocates to counter such moves. However, this week the University of Southern California Law School joined this ignoble list when the school pushed Jeh Johnson, the former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security, to withdraw as the commencement speaker. Johnson was a wonderful choice for the graduation and could share not just his incredible career but his powerful personal story with the law students. Instead, he was told by Dean Andrew Guzman that there were “concerns” about his appearance.

A public letter to Guzman was posted from “the two Chicano members” of the law faculty, Daria Roithmayr and David Cruz. Professors Roithmayr and Cruz objected to the invitation over immigration policies. They declared that simply allowing Johnson to speak a graduation “normalizes illegal state violence” and “legitimates” the “fundamental betrayal of core values.” They further denounced Johnson as displaying a “morally repugnant willingness to use those who are most vulnerable among us as means to an end.”

Rather than state such opposing views, the professors wanted to silence Johnson because he does not share their view of past federal policies and practices. They succeeded and in so doing further “legitimated” the use of protests to stop opposing views and experiences from being shared.

Above the Law posted the letter from Guzman to the law school:

I informed Secretary Johnson that some faculty and students have raised concerns about the immigration policies of the Obama Administration and, therefore, about having him as our commencement speaker. Secretary Johnson shared with me that he believes that graduations should be free of tension and political controversy and for this reason has decided not to speak.

Free speech does not mean tension-free speech. However, by canceling the speech, the heckler’s veto has once again prevailed at an institution of higher education.

Johnson is a New Yorker who witnessed the 9-11 attacks on his birthday and often speaks of that experience. He served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York and was then the General Counsel for the Air Force. He was the first African American partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison — one of the nation’s top law firms. He is a fellow at the American College of Trial Lawyers. He later became Homeland Security Secretary during a critical period for that Department under President Obama.

I cannot think of a more worthy speaker but “concerns” by some students led Guzman to reach out to get him to reconsider. The question is whether opposing “concerns” from conservatives would have the same determinative impact. If conservatives raises “concerns” over lack immigration enforcement or open borders advocates, would the school reach out to see if the speaker might withdraw? How about a pro-life concern over a pro-choose speaker? What speakers would satisfy the concern-free speaker criteria?

The alternative is to say that the law school would hear from one of the most celebrated leaders in the legal field and protesters can voice their own views outside of the event. That is the wonderful thing about free speech. Everyone can speak freely. That’s unless you are asked to speak at USC Law School when “concerns” are raised.

43 thoughts on “Jeh Johnson Withdraws As USC Law Graduation Speaker After Protests”

  1. JT: “The question is whether opposing “concerns” from conservatives would have the same determinative impact.”

    This made me laugh. Classic Turley.

    1. Bill and Hillary are not welcome anywhere


      Ticket prices plunge for Bill and Hillary Clinton’s speaking tour

      Tickets to the latest stop on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s speaking tour were going for as little as $20 on the secondary market as their 13-city adventure continued to struggle to find an audience.

      The best seats in the house at Seattle’s WaMu Theater on Friday could be had for $829, a steep 54% drop from the $1,785 that the former first couple fetched when the tour was announced in early November.

      But organizers soon had to slash listed prices and even offer discount ducats through Groupon to boost sales.

      The official prices for Friday’s appearance ranged from $66.50 to $519, the Seattle Times reported.

      “I really believe that we are in a crisis, a constitutional crisis,” Hillary Clinton opined during the 90-minute performance, presented as an interview of her and her husband by actor Bradley Whitford. “This is a test for our country.”

      “These people, they don’t believe the same set of rules apply to them that apply to everyone else,” Bill Clinton said of the Trump administration.

      1. But I thought Hillary Clinton was at the most qualified person ever to run for president. Not voting for her was a war on women. Did that change? Democrat voters were so adamant. So sure. If she really was the most qualified person, ever, then she should have no trouble filing seats. If she wasn’t selling state access, then contributions to her Foundation should have remained unchanged after she lost.

        Oh, and did the media explain to us in 2016 that “these people” is a racist phrase?

        Gee. It’s almost as if they now admit she had a few issues.

  2. God willing, I won’t have to suffer civil or criminal litigation in what’s left of my longish life.

    But if I do, I hope all the pathetic, little law school grads who can’t stand challenges to their views choose not to enter litigation. How can anyone tell which way a lawyer will act — stand up and use the tools law gives? Or crumble into angry hysterics?

    I suppose the first criterion is choose someone experienced and over the age of 55.

    1. What goes around comes around. One day the Right will be be eating…”their own.”

      1. Too true…but you should denounce the madness regardless of where you think you land in the political spectrum. Especially when it lands in your party. And, so far, there is little to no pushback coming from within the “left.” Who will stand up to the racist/sexist “identity politics” crowd? No one. Who stands against the lunatic accusations that the President is a traitor? No one. Who stands for free speech for all including people you hate? No one. The left is lost. That’s why I left the left.

        One of my brothers who has always voted for the Dems(like I used to be) called me yesterday after the Facebook news and said he has to vote against the Dems/Left before they destroy the country.

  3. “…the two Chicano members” of the law faculty…objected to the invitation over immigration policies. They declared that simply allowing Johnson to speak a graduation “normalizes illegal state violence” and “legitimates” the “fundamental betrayal of core values.”

    When I read crap like this, the first thought that comes to my mind is a need to clearly define what “core values” we are talking about. The Left, and especially Obama, loves to talk about “our values” and toss out those words. What values are they talking about? The university’s core values? Their personal values? Is independent thinking one of them? Is nonjudgment one of them? Is achievement one of them? Is diversity/inclusiveness one of them? Specifically, diversity of viewpoints and free exchange of ideas? Clearly not. So exactly what “core values” were “betrayed” here?

    The second thought that comes to my mind is how some faculty members actually conduct their in-class discussions with their students. How open-minded are these instructors to “simply allowing a student to speak”? Especially if a student holds views that they, the instructor, finds morally, ethically, legally, politically, or in any way, personally objectionable? Is that student free to speak in their classroom without some fear of consequence? I would suggest they probably are not.

    1. I vote we ban “wrong side of history” and “not our values” so the Left has nothing left to say when they can’t rebut an argument.

  4. Oh come now, Jeh wasn’t suppressed over policy “concerns.” He was suppressed because he had the audacity to undercut the Left’s moral-bound, rationality-free argument against Trump ‘s immigration policy. Seems Jeh had the temerity to admit that the Obama administration, of which he was apart, also detained and separated illegal migrant kids from their crooked “marginalized” parents at the border. In essence, he blew the high priestesses of the Left’s pious virtue signaling to Hell and made them bigger fools and hypocrites than they already are to most of us. For that sin, his personal identity politics card has been revoked and no one can now listen to him or his “powerful personal story” on the off-chance he might again burp out a little truth under his breath. The so-called Chicano law professors should be drummed out of the profession but they won’t. Jeh will have to launch a Jussie Smollet-style hoax race crime just to get back in the good graces of the the in-ground. As for the rest of us, we’ll always wonder why gave a hoot when the Cali Cartel wanted to secede from the Union. Can we re-vote on that idea?

  5. I had the privilege of meeting Jeh Johnson when he was General Counsel for the Air Force. He is an extraordinarily impressive man – and his legal accomplishments speak for themselves. Any law school would be fortunate to have him as a speaker. They would be more fortunate to have him as their Dean.

  6. This is good to know. We sponsor a student to USC with a tuition scholarship. I am withdrawing it and if the student goes to a free speech school elsewhere I will award it again. I am sending notice to him next.

  7. To the two members of the “law faculty” who wrote this missive, I think you support repugnant anti first Amendment positions and i think that you should not be permitted to teach at any school of law! I think the Dean should remove you from your positions immediately.

    By the way, did these two members of the law faculty actually identify themselves as Chicanos? If, so why did they?

  8. Wortmanberg says: should USC invite a white supremacist to talk

    In the late 60s, a number of universities, including mine, had the head of the American Nazi Party speak. Instead of protesting the students simply were silent and did not applaud when he was finished.

    But since Johnson was part of the Obama administration, it’s nice to know we have equal opportunity snowflakes. I wonder if they would “disinvite” Obama?

    1. We don’t have ‘equal opportunity’ snowflakes. He’s being attacked from the left.

  9. They further denounced Johnson as displaying a “morally repugnant willingness to use those who are most vulnerable among us as means to an end.

    If by those, these two “Chicano-members of the law faculty are referring to the illegal immigrants among us, then they are the one’s morally repugnant to advocate for their illegal residence in our country.

  10. He’s a product of the Obama Administration. When in doubt, stand down. Take the easy way out. No speaker from either party should be caving to these misinformed faculty and students. Where’s that ceramic chicken when we really need it?

  11. The responsible party here is the law dean. Who hired the obnoxious sectaries you have on your faculty, and why cave into them?

    Hollow men. Academe is over-run with them.

  12. A well written and thoughtful piece. The country seems to be devolving into extreme sides that are rapidly ruining our culture as a free country.

  13. I completely get the reasoning here but does it not have limits? When you permit a person to talk about a subject in an institutionally sanctioned public forum, it’s not clear how the very fact of presenting that subject and the speaker’s opinion about it as simply another “point of view” does not normalize that point of view to some degree and accord it a minimum threshold of legitimacy, which it clearly does not have morally or ethically. I’m not saying that the Johnson incident is an example of this phenomenon, but we remember Alan Dershowitz, the overrated snake, put torture up for debate after 9/11 as if it were just another policy option, and society is morally the worse for it (it wasn’t just Dershowitz, of course, but John Yoo, etc.). We could push the example further: should USC invite a white supremacist to talk about cleansing the world of Muslims, or assassinating Ilhan Omar? And so on. I’m not sure one can avoid giving the views of any given repugnant speaker a sparkle by simply allowing them to vent their filth in public under the rubric of “even controversial speakers should be heard”, instead of diligently keeping them away from the microphone (they can get their own) without outright suppression. I’ve never agreed with Stanley Fish, who claimed that freedom of speech presupposes that society has already decided in advance what it wants and does not want to hear, but living in the U.S. for the past 18 years as it has passed through its morally and politically corroded post-9/11 malaise, I’ve been thinking about it again. The past controversy at Pen America over whether the support Charlie Hebdo comes to mind. Under the aegis of freedom of speech, I believe that this clearly Islamophobic and bigoted rag was given a subtly approving endorsement from a prestigious literary organization, as much as the organization might try to deny it, to publish more bigotry and sewer-level racism. You can acknowledge the right to freedom of speech, and fully support it as a political right, without giving any particular speech your active support or furnishing it with a platform you control. This is not a contradiction. Again, this is not an argument for suppression, just choosing your friends wisely.

    1. Mr. Johnson was going to USC to ‘talk about a subject in an institutionally sanctioned public forum, it’s not clear how the very fact of presenting that subject and the speaker’s opinion about it as simply another “point of view” does not normalize that point of view’. Mr. Johnson was going to give a graduation speech having nothing to do with immigration or his point of view on the matter. Johnson was banned for taking a position in the past that opposed the views of some of the faculty.
      Just because you have personally decided that Mr. Johnson’s past position did not have legitimacy either ‘morally or ethically’ does not make it so, that just one persons opinion. In fact you validate Mr. Turley’s position by demonstrating that you would rather crush free speech than allow opinions you disagree with to be heard.

      1. I don’t think you read what I wrote very carefully. There’s a comment above mine that interestingly addresses the “inviting the white supremacist” issue.

  14. If this person did not pass the “smell” test for these delicate noggins, just what do they expect to find outside the cocoon of of their family and college. I do suggest investment in those online counseling firms as I see a sharp rise in their popularity as these little fragile things enter the real world – this does not apply to any who find succor within the employment tombs of Google or Facebook where their delusion of life will be securely maintained.

  15. Universities of today deserve nothing but complete contempt given that they’ve become unabashed indoctrination centers. Going forward any person of note should reject any invitation from any institution of so called higher learning to send the message. The universities no longer prepare kids for the real world. In the end, they are destroying our country’s future.

  16. I would expect this at an elite snowflake liberal arts college. When I attended law school 30 years ago intellectual conflict was only not expected but demanded.

  17. How are these “students” prepared for the real world when they shut down any speech from someone they don’t agree with? Will our future attorney’s use racist, bigot, Nazi, and the like in their courtroom arguments vice case law and statutes? What’s most disturbing is the “adults” are not being adults! They have failed in their main job of preparing their students for the world. Embarrassing.

    1. Because they envision a real world in which speech from anyone with whom they disagree is shut down, and their goal is to create that world when they graduate. We are decrying the school administration, when we ought to be quaking in terror at the goals of the younger generation to create a society which is governed by socialism while being divided by tribalism, and in which speech is constrained by political correctness.

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