Many of us were appalled but not surprised by the virulent speech of CUNY Law grad, Fatima Mousa Mohammed, at the school’s recent commencement. Many schools (and CUNY in particular) have long cultivated the type of extremist rhetoric and views expressed in the speech. While conservatives are barred or booed at graduations, faculty and students regularly invite far left speakers to attack others for their views. (Indeed, I was attacked by Democratic Rep. Susan Wild at my own school’s commencement who made false claims about my past positions.) However, there is now a call for Mohammed to be barred from practice as a lawyer. Such a move would be an assault on free speech and show the very same intolerance and rage that has been condemned in her speech.
NYC council member Inna Vernikov sent a letter last week that said “I ask that should she pass the New York bar, her admission be denied.” Likewise, the Lawfare Project appealed to the New York Supreme Court, stating, “It’s our belief that a person who has proved themselves to be a bigot is not fit to practice law.”
LawFare added that:
“Mohammed has a history of publicly expressing prejudiced and discriminatory views, specifically demonstrating a profound animosity towards the Jewish community. These views are fundamentally incompatible with the ethical obligations and principles upheld by the legal profession and leave no question that Ms. Mohammed lacks the character and fitness to practice law.”
The group argued that her political views means that “she lacks the requisite good character to become a member of the New York State Bar or any other state bar.”
Mohammed used what I have called “rage rhetoric,” which is the subject of a book that I am now completing. Her calls for “revolution” and denouncing of law as a tool of white supremacy is par for the course in leftist circles.
However, Democrats have accused the right of the same type of incitement, including President Donald Trump’s January 6th speech (which I also have defended as protected speech).
New York has a history of radical lawyers who have challenged wars and laws for decades. Moreover, as free speech advocates, we are often called to defend those who hold views that we find offensive or wrong.
Mohammed is entitled to hold these views and, as long as she practices in an ethical fashion, she is entitled to represent others. I would take the same position with LawFare if an anti-Israeli majority sought to bar one of its lawyers for holding Zionist views.
Years ago, New York groups moved to prevent Bertrand Russell from teaching at CUNY (at the City College of New York). One of the greatest philosophers of his time, Russell was attacked for being an atheist in 1940.
During the same period, McCarthy and his allies were attacking lawyers who held leftist views or represented blacklisted groups. (Notably, the left has followed this same practice by demanding the disbarment of lawyers who represented those challenging the last election).
We should not return to that period of intolerance and censorship.
However, you cannot demand free speech for yourself and your own groups while denying it to others. Mohammad has completed her studies and, if she can pass the bar, she should be allowed to practice law.