Stanford Orders Mandatory Free Speech Sessions for the Law School But Will Not Hold Students Accountable for Disrupting Judge’s Remarks

This week, Stanford Law School dean Jenny Martinez released a powerful defense of free speech in a 10-page letter to the entire school. The letter also revealed that Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach has been put on leave after her disgraceful condemnation of conservative appellate judge Stuart Duncan. Martinez chastised the students responsible for cancelling Duncan’s remarks by shouting him down. The letter follows an intimidating protest at Martinez’s class and demands that she withdraw an earlier apology. However, Martinez still refuses to hold the students personally accountable for their stopping the event.

Students were previously told that if they were traumatized by the cancelling of the event, they could go to Steinbach for support. It now appears that Steinbach will be on leave for an unspecified period.

The letter itself is a commendable and compelling defense of free speech values. Martinez reaffirms what many of us have said: students exercise their free speech in protesting outside of an event, but cannot go inside an event to disrupt it. She denounced the students for denying the free speech rights of others:

“Some students have argued that the disruptive protest of the event was itself constitutionally protected speech. Of course, protests are in some instances protected by the First Amendment, but the First Amendment does not give protestors a “heckler’s veto.” As First Amendment scholar Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has written, “Freedom of speech does not protect a right to shout down others so they cannot be heard.”…

To the contrary, settled First Amendment law allows many governmental restrictions on heckling to preserve the countervailing interest in free speech…

…The President of the University and I have apologized to Judge Duncan for a very simple reason – to acknowledge that his speech was disrupted in ways that undermined his ability to deliver the remarks he wanted to give to audience members who wanted to hear them, as a result of the failure to ensure that the university’s disruption policies were followed.”

The letter is a full throated rejection of anti-free speech sentiments long voiced by figures in academia and the media. Many have argued that “deplatforming” or shouting down others to prevent them from speaking is a form of free speech. Cancel campaigns are now a common occurrence in schools ranging from Yale to Northwestern to Georgetown.  Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech. It is the very antithesis of free speech.

Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. Years ago, at Rice University, I debated NYU Professor Jeremy Waldron who is a leading voice for speech codes. Waldron insisted that shutting down speakers through heckling is a form of free speech. It is not. It is a rationalization for stopping certain views from being voiced or heard in higher education.  CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned). Even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.

Many anti-free speech voices in the media have repeated this twisted view of free speech. For example, Above the Law has been prominent in running columns supporting this view and even defending the lack of ideological diversity on faculties. Senior Editor Joe Patrice dismissed numerous polls showing that faculty and students now self-censor in fear that they will face cancel campaigns or sanctions. He defended “predominantly liberal faculties” and argued that hiring a conservative professor is akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism to teach. He also mocked students who are fearful of speaking freely in class, dismissing them as “just… conservatives being sad that everyone else makes fun of them.” Patrice has even denounced the use of “heckler’s veto” by myself and now the Stanford law dean.

Dean Martinez rejects those extremist views and that is much to her credit.

The problem is this statement:

“Several factors lead me to conclude that what is appropriate here is mandatory educational programming for our student body rather than referring specific students for disciplinary sanction. As one first step the law school will be holding a mandatory half-day session in spring quarter for all students on the topic of freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession.”

It is a bit curious to require the victims of this disruption to attend mandatory free-speech sessions with those who denied their exercise of free speech.

The fact is that, as Martinez notes, the law school was already committed to free speech values and barred the disruption of such events. These students chose to ignore those rules because they knew that they would not be held accountable. They stopped the exercise of free speech because they believed that they had the license to do so. They even complained about their names being mentioned in an article after a campaign to name and shame conservative students. They failed to see why they should bear any consequences for stopping others from hearing views that they oppose.

Absent real accountability for these disruptions, they will continue. The hard part for administrators is not to embrace values that define higher education, but to defend those values in real terms. It is not popular or easy. However, Martinez just gave these students a pass after cancelling the remarks of a federal appellate judge and openly defying protections for free speech. That will convey a message of its own — a message at odds with the fine sentiments contained in this letter.


73 thoughts on “Stanford Orders Mandatory Free Speech Sessions for the Law School But Will Not Hold Students Accountable for Disrupting Judge’s Remarks”

  1. Jenny Martinez is no innocent party in this DEI guerrilla theater. She “played a pivotal role in the school’s important recent initiatives on promoting diversity and inclusion”. She is the former Chair of the SLS Committee promoting it. According to Stanfords own publication.

    So of course she won’t take any decisive action. She simply puts up a PR screen to hide her complicity.

    1. David – I challenged him below to justify his position that free speech includes the right to deprive others of their ability to speak. He must have chickened out and decided not to show his face here anymore.

          1. Interestingly, Dean Martinez’s long, detailed letter fails to mention Section 403 of the California Penal Code. Section 403 makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, for anyone to wilfully disturb or breakup any lawful meeting or assembly. Apparently, Stanford law students are above the law. That’s a heck of a way to train wannabe lawyers.

  2. “So, from now on, whenever Private Wokester fs up, I will not punish zim, I will punish all of You!”

  3. The students shouldn’t be punished. The DEI Dean… should be and is being punished.
    Here’s the reason why…

    The DEI Dean did not enforce the rules nor did she try to set decorum. She excused their bad behavior and was part of the problem.
    So there is no way that the Dean of the Law school could punish them over this incident.

    The best thing she could do (Dean of the Law School) is give them a pass, and then discipline the DEI Dean… then issue a warning that future ‘hecklers vote’ actions would be met w discipline and would not be tolerated.


    Stanford University is private property conducting free enterprise and only its owners enjoy the power to “claim and exercise” dominion.

    Stanford University successfully engages in the “pursuit of happiness.”

    Student Enrollment


    Total Cost of Enrollment

    $79,000 (USD)


    “In 2023–23, Stanford is a $8.2 billion enterprise. This figure represents the university’s consolidated budget for operations, a compilation of all annual operating and restricted budgets that support teaching, scholarship and research, including the budgets of all schools and administrative areas and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It does not include the $0.6 billion capital budget and excludes the budget for Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.”


    “Stanford’s $36.3 billion endowment (as of Aug. 31, 2021) provides an enduring source of financial support for fulfillment of the university’s mission of teaching, learning and research. It disbursed a $1.5 billion payout to support vital academic programs and financial aid during the fiscal year.”

    – Stanford University

  5. What happened at Stanford was anti-free speech and it was also an egregious abuse of power. When a law school dean strongly encouraged students to leave the room, even those students who disagree with the dean will likely get up and leave. To stay in the room, with the abusive dean watching, could very well jeopardize a student’s academic career and professional prospects. It was an insidious display of abusive power, totalitarianism, intolerance, and a clear display of non-diversity of thought.

  6. C’mon you all. You can hear the conversation now. An independent big time donor to Stanford calls the administration office and asks what the hell is going on at Stanford. The next call is from a big Democratic supporter who still believes in free speech (?) asking why Stanford has encouraged the loss of control on the campus. Bigga bam bigga boom the DEI head of propaganda is fired. Now there’s only one place left where she can be hired. She is at the front of the line to replace the current white house press secretary. I apologize. There is another position that I didn’t consider. Director of the Grooming department at a California elementary school. Her qualifications are impeccable.

    1. RE:”C’mon you all. You can hear the conversation now..” Ditto! Steinbach thrown under the bus for doing what she believed she was hired and mandated to do…until…the Law School and University were illuminated by the light of public scrutiny and the buck stopped with the Dean. Then, ‘the Conservative money’ took control.

  7. I’m just glad the libeal wussies did something — anything. It was tepid, ineffective and as an unmanly defense of the Constitution as you will ever see but what do you expect from Pyongyang on the Bay?

  8. Below, Svelaz takes a position consistent with what he’s said before: free speech rights include the right to deprive others of their free speech rights. I’m genuinely interested where you get that from, Svelaz. Is it just your own mental ruminations, or can you point to some legal authority that says that? Everything you’ve said in support so far amounts to a red herring: speech doesn’t have to be civil to fall within First Amendment protections, true, but we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about depriving others of their First Amendment rights. The J6 protesters and the parents protesting at school board meetings have nothing to do with a deliberate attempt to deprive others of their First Amendment free-speech rights.

    While you’re thinking of a response (assuming you choose to respond), kindly consider these questions:

    Does exercising one’s constitutional right to free exercise of religion include burning down someone else’s church, so long as that action is mandated by one’s religion?
    Does exercising one’s right to hold personal property include stealing someone else’s property?

    Perhaps even more to the point: state laws allowing for recovery of damages for defamation have been upheld against a challenge based on the First Amendment. That means exercising one’s free speech rights does not extend to even negligently damaging another person’s reputation with falsehoods. The standard is actual malice with a public figure plaintiff, but still, defamation laws can be enforced even by public figures against malicious damage their reputation. Free speech rights also do not extend to speech damaging other types of interests. So . . . under Supreme Court precedent, states can criminalize such things as threats (under the Court’s “true threat” doctrine), fighting words, incitement to imminent lawlessness, child pornography, fraud, and any other speech where the speech itself is integral to the criminal conduct.

    In summary, I’m interested to know how one can get to the position that freedom of speech includes the freedom to intentionally prevent other people from exercising their free-speech rights. That is Svelaz’s position, and although it seems like an extreme one, I’m not ruling out the possibility that it nonetheless has adequate support in legal authorities. So I’ll be awaiting Svelaz’s response. This is not a trick to just argue with him, but an honest request for information.

    1. oldmanfromkansas,
      Good luck with that.

      However, the way you frame it, sounds a lot like during Mao’s Culture Revolution Red Guard justified their actions.

  9. Now, had these self-absorbed “students” had one teacher in their life like this one below, perhaps they wouldn’t be well, self-absorbed. This might be a well-known true story, but certainly worth repeating.

    In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a history teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.

    ‘Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?’

    She replied, ‘You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.’

    They thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s our grades.’ ‘No,’ she said.

    ‘Maybe it’s our behavior.’ She told them, ‘No, it’s not even your behavior.’

    And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

    The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, ‘Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.’

    At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

    Martha said, ‘You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.’

  10. The students that held up VULGAR signs should be expelled. Read One L by Scott Turow and see how far we have fallen in 30-40 years. I can only imagine what would have happened to a law school student that held up such signs as recently as 2000.

    The left is ruining law schools, medical schools, J schools, colleges, high schools and now elementary schools. DOes anyone think that this isn’t on purpose?

  11. If Stanford University really wanted to show that it was apologetic and had reformed, I would recommend that either the President or the Law School Dean invite Judge Duncan back to the university to give a talk on free speech and the importance of debate and the airing of all sides of an issue in the judicial process specifically and the body politic in general. They could invite Judge Duncan to be the Law School graduation speaker.

  12. These students and Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach knew precisely what they were doing. There should only be classes for the ones who know how to conduct themselves. Students that conduct themselves in horrible conduct and manners are substandard individuals. Instead, for these students, a hefty fine, placement on their college records of this conduct, and classes they had to miss for their actions. They should not be able to take any tests or finals that may arise during removal from all classes. If they have to spend X amount of extra time in college, it will open their eyes. This babying of them does them and no one else any good. They may learn how to conduct themselves. Ms. Steinbach needs to be removed permanently and should not be teaching at a supposed college of high standards; she is a failure. I would not hire any graduate or faculty member from what is obviously a failing college.

  13. Turley ovelooks the primary reason why these students shouldn’t be punished. They were also practicing their free speech rights. Protesting is a form of free speech. Turley seems to think that free speech is only acceptable if it’s done with rules and civility. He seems to rely on the idea that this is the only way free speech should be exercised. Unfortunately reality doesn’t agree with Turley.

    Absolutely nothing demands that free speech be civil or orderly. Just look at how some defend jan 6 rioting, it’s free speech and it disrupted an official government function. It’s the same with parents shouting down school officials at school board meetings. Conservatives proudly claimed they were merely exerting their free speech rights by being disruptive and shouting down other speakers. Turley was silent.

    Seeking to punish these students for exerting their free speech rights is being anti-free speech itself. Thats why Turley is a hypocrite when it comes to free speech,

    1. You cannot shout down a speaker and claim that as free speech. That is not logical. The violence at J6 was essentially government choreographed and instigated. Parent-teacher events are not speech events. Parents simply demand their children belong to them, not to teachers. The abject failure of education in much of this country is just one reason why.

      1. With respect to J6.

        Those who initiated violence – whether law enforcement or protestors, or government agents or antifa should be prosecuted.

        I do not know the extent to which antifa infiltrated J6 – though we know atleast one Antifa affiliate was inciting violence and following the group with Alishi Babbit – because his video is among the best documentation of the event.
        But the extent to which it went beyond that is not known.

        We know government agents were widely dispersed – we now have CP body cam video of an agent being confronted by the CP and his providing the means to identify Federal officers – colored armbands and an orage tip on their gun barrels.
        But we do NOT know what they were doing.

        We do know that a large portion of the CP was cooperative with protestors and a tiny portion was violently confrontational.

        Recently I heard a rumor – I do not have any confirmation on this, that Pelosi had actually invited Antifa.

        Whether that is True or not – we should find out.

        Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

        Releasing the video to Carlson was a start.
        But it really should be made public.

        The DOJ has openly admitted crowdsourcing trying to find others who were at the Capitol.

        I am not opposed to that. Put everything up for all of us.
        Let the chips fall where they lie. Let the left look for more violent protestors,
        Let those on the right seek people wrongly prosecuted.
        Lets get the real picture of what actually happened.

        Regardless, it should be self evident at this point that we have been repeatedly lied to.

        Though I am not prepared to say it was government “orchestrated”.

        I think that gives the government too much credit.

    2. You really missed the point here. The students should be punished because they violated the school’s policy against disruption of events. It is really that simple.

      Your attempt to defend this violation by claiming it was merely an exercise of “free speech” ignores the fact that free speech is not absolute. It has several limitations and the school’s written policy against disruption of events is just one of many. You would be well-advised to research settled law on free speech limitations before implying that it doesn’t have to follow some rules.

    3. To Svelaz:
      So I presume you believe that anyone can exercise their free speech rights even in a formal auditorium gathering sponsored by a universtity and thereby completely and utterly disrupt a justice invited to speak at a school event so that all those in attendance are denied the privilege of hearing the justice speak. I suppose you also think one can yell fire in the auditorium, despite the law to the contrary. They say a fool is born every day! What about the rights of others? What about the established law that the exercise of free speech depends on the concept of “time, place and manner.” As my children used to say, “Catch a Clue” ………Free speech is not absolute. The LAW students who participated in the disruption should have to answer for their actions. For Standford to allow them to “skate” is to condone what they did. Obviously, there were alternatives available to them such as demonstrating outside the premises, publishing written materials, and holding their own event. Some of Stanford’s deans and faculty should be held accountable and it appears some are suffering some penalty. Why should these faculty members and deans be permitted to teach law students if they condone the horrible treatment given the Justice. They condoned violating the Justice’s rights.

  14. I am attaching a link concerning a hearing in the Senate for a biden court nominee. It is the second such hearing for a biden nominee who wasn’t aware of basic legal principles when questioned by Senator Kennedy. If these law graduates cannot even provide competent answers to basic questions during their nomination process why would we expect law students to even understand the basic of our constitution. I blame affirmative action and DEI selection of students and the entailing dumbing down of our educational standards for statistical purposes for the sorry state of our law schools and our entire legal system. There are so many examples of unfit soros-sponsored DA’s in the justice system that naming them all would take more time than I care invest but most of you know who they are. I would hope that any justice/judge would, at least, be able to define what is a woman.

    1. Whimsical, watching this “legal scholar” punt on Brady evidence and Brady v Maryland was a beautiful thing to behold. Biden is doing to the judiciary what he did to Afghanistan, the border, our energy sector and prices at the supermarket.

      If Joe Biden was trying to ruin America what would he be doing differently than what he is doing already?

      1. Well, considering his character, I wouldn’t be suprised if he sold the launch codes to china on his way out.

  15. I wish colleges would stop the ubiquitous use of the term “trauma.” There is real trauma, and that’s what trauma centers and therapy sessions are for. A college student who can’t handle an event like this needs real therapy, not a sit-down with an unqualified DEI ideologue. These woke terms are turning citizens into pathetic, helpless robots.

  16. It’s ironic that a law school has to hold a mandatory session to teach its students the law about free speech. Something is drastically missing in today’s legal education. As for the DEI administrator — before she is allowed back to any campus, she should be required to take hours and hours of mandatory sessions on free speech — kind of the reverse of those mandatory DEI workshops this clueless mob is always pushing, but regarding actual law, not ideological fantasy.

    1. Sadly, the poor DIE associate dean who is already appears to be a victim of the Peter Principle will most likely go on to greater glory as a full fledged dean at some other university that is contaminated with the dread Woke disease.

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