Federal judge Kyle Duncan spoke about the recent debacle he suffered during a talk at Stanford University.
The University of Notre Dame‘s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government hosted a lecture from Duncan Friday. The speech was about his lecture at Stanford Law School earlier this month, when he was shouted down by students and an administrator. Duncan spoke about the consequences and ramifications of free speech that the Stanford debacle highlighted.
“The importance of today’s event I think really needs no explanation,” Notre Dame professor Philip Munoz said while introducing Duncan. “What happened two weeks ago at Stanford Law School raises fundamental questions about free speech and our liberal democracy and how healthy our free speech culture is … especially at our nation’s elite schools.” Munoz also noted that members of the Stanford Federalist Society were watching the lecture virtually.
Duncan began his talk by praising the enduring tradition of free speech, including student protests. “[America is] a great country, where you can harshly criticize federal judges and nothing bad will happen to you,” he said. “You might even get praised or promoted. … The students at Stanford and other elite law schools swim in an ocean of free speech.”
“But make no mistake, what went on in that classroom on March the ninth had nothing to do with our proud American tradition of free speech,” Duncan noted. “It was rather a parody of it.”
“It is not free speech to silence others because you hate them,” Duncan continued. “It is not free speech to jeer and heckle a speaker who has been invited to your school so that he can’t deliver a talk. It is not free speech to form a mob and hurl taunts and threats that aren’t worthy of being written on the wall of a public toilet. It is not free speech to pretend to be harmed by words or ideas you disagree with, and then use that feigned harm as a license to deny a speaker the most rudimentary forms of civility.”
Duncan rebuked the idea that the hecklers were engaging in “counter speech,” or participating in the “marketplace of ideas.”
“Counter speech means offering a reasoned response to an argument,” he said. “It doesn’t mean screaming ‘Shut up, you scum we hate you,’ at a distance of 12 feet. … The marketplace of ideas describes a free and fair competition among opposing arguments, with the most compelling one, we hope, emerging on the top. What transpired at Stanford was no marketplace. It was more like a flash mob on a shoplifting spree.”
Duncan said the mob had no intention of engaging with his ideas. “[T]he mob had no interest in my talk at all,” the judge remarked. “They were there to heckle and to cheer and to shame. Let’s say the quiet part out loud: The mob came to target me because they hate my work and my ideas.”
The protest had nothing to do with free speech, he concluded. “It had everything to do with intimidation. And to be clear, not intimidating me. I’m not intimidated by this. I’m a life-tenured judge. I’m going to go back to my court and keep writing opinions. No, the target of the intimidation was the protesters’ fellow students.”