We recently discussed the move by Stanford student representatives to block funding for a speech by former Vice President Michael Pence. The denial of $6000 in funding was an act of raw viewpoint discrimination by the students and is currently being appealed. Now, however, former United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Judge Michael Luttig has written to Stanford to offer to pay the money to allow faculty and students to hear from Vice President Pence.
The College Republicans needed 8 votes to approve the funding. However, the final vote was 7 in favor, 7 in abstention, and 1 in opposition. Somehow the seven students not voting considered that act to be more ethical than just being honest and voting against the funding. It had the same effect. Despite only one student voting against the speech, the school refused to support a former vice president coming to its campus to address faculty and students.
The vote captures the rise of intolerance and speech controls sweeping over our campuses. This is a vice president who played a historic role in defying a president to certify the vote on January 6th. He did the right thing. However, whether you agree or disagree with him, this is an opportunity for students to listen and question someone who held the second highest office in the country and served in a critical capacity in a number of key policy areas, including the election and the pandemic. However, a majority of Stanford students in this vote refused to approve a small level of funding for the event.
Judge Luttig is a graduate of the University of Virginia and clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia when he was still on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was also a close associate of Chief Justice Warren Burger. He was an Assistant Attorney General in the administration of George H.W. Bush and assisted Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas in their confirmation hearings. He left the court to become General Counsel and Senior Vice President to Boeing Company. His son attended Stanford.
The need for outsiders to pony up $6000 to fund a visit of a former Vice President to Stanford should be a disgrace for every faculty member, administrator, student, and the alumni at that school. The actions of the Stanford students show again that we have a rising generation of censors who have been told that barring free speech is a form of free speech. It is an insult to the value of free speech.
Many liberals have sought to deflect from their support of censorship by insisting that private companies and schools are not required to support free speech under the First Amendment. In recent years, many academics have sought to justify censorship on the Internet with an analogous argument. They argue that private companies like Twitter are not subject to the First Amendment, which only applies to the government. It is an obvious but largely irrelevant argument. Those of us who have denounced the rising censorship on social media and on campuses are defending free speech as a human right. The First Amendment is not synonymous with broader values of free speech.
Luttig’s offer is generous but Stanford has an endowment of $37.8 billion. It can afford $6000. What it cannot afford is to enable such censorship and viewpoint discrimination as an institution of higher learning. Hopefully, Luttig’s offer will trigger some sense of institutional self-reflection on the rising intolerance at Stanford.
Here is the letter:
To the Stanford Review and the Stanford Republicans:
My son, John Luttig, is a former Member of the Stanford Review and of the Undergraduate Senate, who now works at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
I am in New York at the moment and just read that the Stanford Undergraduate Senate declined to fund Vice President Pence’s planned visit to the campus in February.
If the Constitutional Council also declines to fund the Vice President’s visit to the Stanford University campus, I would be honored to fund his visit.
Please keep me apprised of the actions of the Constitutional Council.
J. Michael Luttig