No, CUNY’s Graduation Speaker Should Not Be Barred From Practicing Law


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.”

I disagree.

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.

Indeed, leftist groups show the same intolerance in regularly seeking to bar those with pro-Israeli views. Many also oppose free speech by blocking or shouting down conservative or libertarian speakers.

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.

When radical lawyers turn to criminal conduct (as shown a couple years ago with a firebombing by two young lawyers), they should be prosecuted. Indeed, many of us were appalled when the Biden Administration gave them generous plea deals.

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.

42 thoughts on “No, CUNY’s Graduation Speaker Should Not Be Barred From Practicing Law”

  1. By defending her, you are definitely creating new material for lawyer jokes. But besides that lawyers are always blabbing about process, decorum, fealty to justice, etc. Yet if someone paid you to attack her and destroy her career, you would. Get over yourselves!

  2. My wife graduated from CUNY. Her entire class is repulsed by stuff like this which was unheard of during their time – the rigor was excellent then for a ‘second tier’ law school.. Additionally, favorite professor (who is a ‘classical’ liberal, just like Turley, i.e. a nazi to the young, woke, and stupid) quit, sold his home in NYC, and is moving out of state. These universities are a joke, and without those senior faculty and saner alma mater, they *will* devolve a la CHAZ. If these issues are still unaddressed after that – they will collapse. We had better have alternatives ready to go when that happens.

  3. “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.”

    Has anyone actually read the transcript of the commencement speech given byFatima Mousa Mohammed?

    There is not one mention of the Jewish community in the speech.

    Fatima Mousa Mohammed does however bash the state of Israel multiple times and righfully so.

    To conflate the state of Israel with that of the Jewish community is to declare all Jewish persons worldwide are Israeli – clearly they are not.

    The actions (eg Apartheid, government sanction of settler violence, use of administrative detention, IDF’s weak open-fire rules of engagement, use of collective punishment, etal) of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people are reprehensible and should rightfully be admonished by all reasonable persons.

    All persons whining about the state of Israel being called out for it’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians need to quit their kvetching and demand accountability.

    Judaism’s Golden Rule – “Rabbi how should I treat my neighbor? Rabbi’s response you should treat you neighbor like you yourself would like to be treated.

    Hello everyone. Thank you, Dean Setty for that introduction. I want to start by greeting you all with the greeting I know best: Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh, may peace and blessings be upon you all. My name is Fatima Mousa Mohammed, and I come to you all from the rich soil of Yemen raised by the humble streets of Queens.

    It is my honor, and I’m humbled to be standing before you all as a selected class speaker— daytime speaker—of the class of 2023.

    To all our loved ones, our parents, grandparents, siblings, partners and friends, our comrades, aunts and uncles, and all the little kids in the crowd. Those who made it, and those who couldn’t. We wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you for your unwavering love. My mom’s crying so [inaudible] …. Thank you for your unwavering love and support. This celebration is yours. This is a moment for those who paved the way for us to be here. Those who wiped out our tears, those who are waiting ahead, and to those we now must open the doors. And now to the graduating class of 2023. Before I begin I want to tell you all that my grandparents are in Yemen right now and they assured me that there are fireworks lighting up the city of Aden, in celebration of all of us. So just know that oceans away, there’s a whole city on the other end of the earth, it feels like, celebrating you all.

    To the class of 2023, the moment we have all been waiting for is finally here. The class that began this journey during a season of grief, a season where ambulance trucks were the only noise in town and our neighborhoods became sort of ghost towns. Where we watched our immigrant parents keep the city on its feet as they saw bodies packed into refrigerated morgue trucks. The class that saw nothing but black zoom square boxes for the first two years—there’s a lot I can say about the loss and the pain we’ve all endured over the last few years, but I am reminded of Frantz Fanon’s words. “Things get bad for all of us almost continually, and what we do under the constant stress reveals who and what we are.”

    So I’m here to celebrate who and what we are, who you are. Like many of you, I chose CUNY School of Law for its articulated mission to the law in the service of human needs. One of very few legal institutions created to recognize that the law is a manifestation of white supremacy that continues to oppress and suppress people in this nation and around the world. We joined this institution … [applause] we joined this institution to be equipped with the necessary legal skills to protect our communities, to protect the organizers fighting endlessly, day in and out, with no accolades, no cameras, no votes, no PhD grants, working to lift the facade of legal neutrality and confront the systems of oppression that wreak violence on them. Systems of oppression created to feed an empire with a ravenous appetite for destruction and violence. Institutions created to intimidate, bully, and censor and stifle the voices of those who resist. In this moment [applause] …

    In this moment of celebrating who we are, I want to celebrate CUNY Law as one of the few, if not the only, law school to make a public statement defending the right of its students to organize and speak out against Israeli settler colonialism.

    That this … [applause] that this is the law school that passed and endorsed BDS on a student and faculty level. Recognizing that absent a critical-imperialism-settler-colonialism lens, our work and the school’s mission statement is void of value. That as Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes, carrying the ongoing Nakba that our silent—that our silence is no longer acceptable.

    We are … We are the student body and faculty that fought back when investor-focused admin attempted to cross the BDS picket line, saying loud and clear that Palestine can no longer be the exception to our pursuit of justice, that our morality will not be purchased by investors. We are the class … We are the class that fought for incarcerated clients and zealously filed for their clemency applications with nearly zero institutional support. We are the class that fought for clients to get asylum, that went to court to reunite families torn apart by ACS and the family surveillance. We are the class that organized against using LEXIS, a legal research company contracted with ICE.

    And we did all of this in spite of the racism, in spite of the selective activism, the self-serving interests of CUNY Central, an institution that continues to fail us, that continues to train and cooperate with the fascist NYPD, the military, that continues to train IDF soldiers to carry out that same violence globally. A larger institution committed to its donors, not to its students. I am here to remind us all that our existence on its own today in this room is revolutionary. That as we embark on our legal careers, we must practice a discipline of truth and courage and hold ourselves true to the mission statement we came to this school for. So today, I celebrate the courage and bravery that got us here, and I celebrate every moment of resilience that sets us apart as the number one leading public interest school in this nation.

    I see … I see before my eyes, brilliant future public defenders. I see brilliant immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, business attorneys, civil rights attorneys and movement lawyers. I see professors and librarians. I see before me future practitioners who will work on contracts to end partnerships with ICE and not intellectual property contracts to secure designs for the newest drone technology murdering children. I see future lawyers who will defend tenants in court and not those that dispossess our communities from their homes. I see future attorneys who will protect the communities terrorized by the surveillance state and not protect the agents of oppression that carry out that terror. Future lawyers who will fight to keep families together and not tear them apart. I see future lawyers who will work to make this world a better place, one person, one movement at a time. I see a class to be rejoiced, a class to be celebrated, a class to be remembered today and in the years ahead. And as we celebrate who we are today, let us actively fight against the collective amnesia and cognitive dissonance that limits our understanding of the world to what is only directly before our eyes.

    Let us remember … Let us remember that Gaza, just this week, has been bombed with the world watching. That daily, brown and black men are being murdered by the state at Rikers. That there are Palestinian political prisoners like HLF in US prisons, that there are refugees at the southern border still locked up. That yesterday marked one year since the murder of US journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and that the murder of black men like Jordan Neely by a white man on the on the MTA is dignified by politicians like Eric Adams and Senator Chuck Schumer.

    We leave our classes and we leave the school to a world that so desperately needs us to stand alongside those who have given up, for the sake of liberation, far more than we could imagine. So may the joy and excitement that fills the auditorium here, may the rage that fills this auditorium, dance in the hallways of our elementary schools, in our home villages of Sheikh Jarrah, Gaza, and Yemen, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. May we rejoice in the corners of our New York City bedroom apartments and dining tables. May it be the fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world.

    No one person will save the world. No single movement will liberate the masses. Those who brunt the ferocity of the violence, those who carry the revolution. The people, the masses, those who brunt the ferocity of the violence, those who need our protection, they will carry this revolution. The revolution that lives so loudly despite not being televised. No longer are we going to capitulate to oppressors. No longer are we going to put our hope in their depraved consciousness. And, as the great Malcolm X said, “We declare our right on this earth, to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth in this day, which we intend to into existence by any means necessary.”

    So one client at a time, one case at a time, one hearing at a time, we will show up for communities. We will show up for ourselves. And we will protect the fight that brings us all closer to the fall of all oppressive institution. A reality that is only myopic and unrealistic to the oppressors, but is the inevitable future for the oppressed, for oppressed people everywhere. For greater empires of destruction have fallen before and so will these. So to the class of 2023, the fight begins now.

    1. One can criticize Israel – but in a speech like this, that is ONLY criticizing Israel along with the USA, which is available for all to ridicule, is a symptom of focusing on Jews. What is the only other characteristic distinguishing from Israel and other, criticism worthy states in the region and the world? Many other states are much more worthy of rebuke and criticism.

      While this is far from an appropriate platform, she can say and support as much as anyone else. She also deserves her license to practice law, as much as anyone else.

      1. @Clay,
        Oh we didn’t mention the Jews, just the state of Israel.
        Too funny.

        And people wonder why the BDS movement is so wrong.
        How many Jews live in Gaza?
        How many Arabs live in Israel as Israeli citizens? (Over a million)

        And Israel doesn’t call for the death of Palestinians …

      2. Clay
        When New York allowed an illegal alien to get a license and practice law, All standards vanished

    2. Personalnongrata,

      Being against the state of Israel or anti-Zionism is the way anti-Semites generally express themselves and their anti-Semitism today.

      You created an unsupportable list of accusations against Israel. Perhaps you have been misinformed. If you wish, I am happy to discuss these things with you civilly and in a friendly manner.

      It is a very time-consuming discussion because people do not understand the history of the Middle East, international law, or recognize what is happening in that region. Israel is innocent of most of the claims against it.

      Many do not realize that the violence comes from the Palestinians, where the IDF acts in defense of people who otherwise would be blown up by missiles or bombs that are ever-present. The IDF might be the most gentle army dealing with adversaries. They do this at the risk of their own lives, trying to cause minimal harm when they respond to missile attacks from their neighbors. Missile attacks are frequent and numerous [“Israel’s Iron Dome has blocked thousands of incoming rockets”]. That article doesn’t mention all the missiles not blocked by Iron Dome or the bombs, knifings, or shootings.

      Did you know Palestinian martyrs bomb school buses filled with students and other civilians? Do you understand the families of those martyrs are annually paid money for the terrorism while they celebrate the martyrdom with parties and street naming in his honor? That is one reason there is no peace.

      There is no apartheid in Israel. The Knesset and Supreme Court have Arab representation, and Israeli Arabs have full rights, though they can choose whether or not to serve in the army. Many do and are courageous soldiers.

      In an attempt for peace, Israel turned Gaza over to the Palestinians intact. There was no quid pro quo except the desire for peace. Unfortunately, many of those missiles meant to kill come from Gaza today.

      One should note the Palestinian refugee is a political construct. There is no refugee status by the UN or elsewhere that includes future generations. Politics and Anti-Semitism has changed the meaning of words and the legal rights of everyone.

      Think about India and Pakistan, where massive populations became refugees. No more (or very few) refugees still exist in that conflict or in many other areas of the world. Only Israel is subject to rules that pertain to no other country. That is anti-Semitism.

      When you talk about the displacement of Arab families, you must remember the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (an ally of Hitler with the same desire to murder all the Jews) told the Arabs to leave. Many did, and many stayed, something desired by the Israeli government.

      Did you know that about the same number of Jews were thrown out of the nations surrounding Israel? They were refugees but were threatened with death if they remained in their homes. They left without any of their assets. Have you ever discussed their plight?

      Do you know how Israel’s borders came to be? The UN decided that the parties would fight until a set date, and whoever controlled the land would determine the borders.

      No one thought the Jews would survive. The British had denied the Jews weapons, and when they left the area, they provided the Arabs with all the military installations.

      Six Arab nations attacked the Jewish settlements. The Arabs had airplanes and tanks, which the Jews didn’t have until later in the war. The Arabs outnumbered 5:1 the Jews who had no surrounding supply chains that existed for the Arabs. The end of the war left the Jews with a small fraction of land based on the original mandate, but the Arabs refused peace.

      This is all documented in Israel’s favor including the legal basis for Israel’s ownership of Judea and Sumaria (the west bank). I am happy to provide legal proof of sovereignty at your request.

      Please let me know how I can help you in any way.

    3. This “from the heart” speech is an in your face reason to make the gulf between citizens and non citizens as great as possible. No matter your status, If you are not a citizen, you are a Guest in My home and should behave as such. If Your actions and speech disrupt the peace you face an administrative deportation. You have no right to be here or to public protest you are a Guest. Nor are children citizens unless one of the parents is a citizen. This speech says I don’t care about this school. It is only a way for me to attack this country from within. Ungrateful and proud enemy of the state.

  4. The mandatory oath to practice law in NY State says “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of [attorney and counselor-at-law], according to the best of my ability.”
    Is it possible for anyone to believe that a person who hates this country as much as she clearly does can take this oath without lying?

  5. A graduation speech should be uplifting and positive. Famous speeches left a mark on the students, urging them to make a positive contribution to the world.
    Fatima used it as a platform to hurl vitriol against one specific people.
    Her previous statements about Jews should have been a red flag regaridng her antisemitic views.
    If this is what she does on her graduation speech then it would be safe to assume that her practicing law would not benefit society.

  6. @Turley,

    One thing I have to ask…

    Suppose something like this happened during the early 70’s.
    The speaker at a commencement ceremony was to use it as a way to protest the war.

    Would that be enough for the then NY Bar to not allow her to take the exam or to be admitted to the bar?

    What if she not only protested the war, but also promoted that students should stand up, attack the police, bomb the ROTC offices and promoted violent protests?

    Now the bar association back then would probably have not allowed her to join the bar assoc.
    Today? That’s the question.

    Yes, we have the 1st Amendment.
    But that doesn’t mean one is immune from the consequences of exercising their 1st A right.

    This is why some women who speak out against Trans men in women sports should be considered heroic. They know the risks they are taking yet believe enough to suffer the backlash.


  7. @Turley,
    This is the crux of the problem.

    There is free speech and yet that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an immunity from the consequences of speaking out hateful rhetoric.
    At what point do you draw the line?

    To flip this. Suppose she attended a Trump rally and later marched on the Capitol. While she didn’t enter the Capitol, she was present at the rally standing next to Ray Epps. Even though she wasn’t charged… would she be disqualified from being allowed to take the bar exam? What if she actually walked in, unmolested into the Capitol? How about then? She could be charged and sentenced to jail, or held in jail awaiting trial where she’s acquitted. Should she be allowed to take the bar then?

    The point being isn’t that she just expressed her opinion, but also the context of when and where.

    Note that many support the supreme court judges from boycotting certain schools when considering their clerkship positions.
    So disqualifying her from the bar isn’t outrageous. In fact, it would be just if you considered the current belief that harmful words are equivalent to a violent physical act. That her words were triggering and a micro-agression against her Jewish classmates. We would be applying her own standards of conduct against her.


  8. You can’t trust leftists at the bench, but the more they practice “law,” the more precedents are made protecting us from their vicious insanity.

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