Sen. Mike Lee has expressed concern on Twitter about recent events on college campuses where conservative speakers were disinvited or, as was the recent case at Stanford Law School, met with anger, vitriol and loud protest, when invited to speak.
When federal Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan spoke last month at Stanford Law School, he was drowned out by student protesters, then lectured by a dean at the school. The dean is now on leave, and the law school president released a lengthy memo stating her commitment to free speech.
Soon after the event, Lee responded on Twitter, saying it was “anything but an isolated incident.”
“While disparate treatment of conservative viewpoints has become all too common in American law schools, Stanford has managed to take this trend to a new low,” he said as part of a tweet thread.
The American legal tradition has historically trained students to engage in rigorous debate about contested issues. But recent pressure campaigns to cancel speakers on law school campuses has raised questions among some about whether this will remain a hallmark of legal education going forward.
While pressure to cancel campus speakers can come from both the political left and right, according to the “Disinvitation Database,” a list of canceled speakers compiled by the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education, about two-thirds of cancellation campaigns come from the political left.
When news broke Tuesday about the potential cancellation of an event at Brigham Young University Law School, Lee expressed similar frustration.
While tweeting out an article by the Cougar Chronicle, an off-campus conservative news website, Lee wrote that he hates “to see this at any law school, especially my alma mater.” Lee’s father was Rex E. Lee, BYU Law School’s founding dean and a former U.S. Solicitor General.
The BYU event was to be sponsored by the school’s chapter of the Federalist Society, according to an opinion piece by a member of BYU’s Federalist Society, Garrett Hostetter in the Cougar Chronicle.
A Nebraska law professor was invited to speak by BYU’s Federalist Society about the recent Supreme Court abortion ruling Dobbs v. Jackson. He was expected to give a defense of the decision, while a BYU law professor was slated to provide a critical response.
According to Hostetter, administrators at the law school were concerned about a previous speech the Nebraska professor gave at the school as well as possible negative student reaction.
Through a spokeswoman, BYU Law School responded to the story with a detailed statement.
“BYU Law School has one of the most active student chapters of the Federalist Society. With Law School approval, the Federalist Society hosts numerous speakers each year, including this year,” the statement read. It further described the school’s approval process for scheduling speakers and event coordination, concluding that through its process “to our knowledge, no Federalist Society event has ever been denied.”
The statement then addressed the specific BYU Law School event in question: “Last fall, we became aware that a Federalist Society officer was organizing an event and had invited a speaker without applying for approval under the Speakers and Events Policy. The student planned to stage a debate regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This topic is of great interest to our students, and we are eager to engage on this subject.”
The statement continued: “The assistant dean of students, who administers the policy, informed the organizers that the event would need to go through appropriate channels but expressed concern about the anticipated timing of the event and suggested that they explore hosting the event the following semester. The Federalist Society officers did not apply for the required approval for this academic year.”
On social media, Lee framed the circumstances at BYU within the context of other campus cancellations, which some conservatives — including Lee — see as a growing problem. At an event at Yale Law School last year, also sponsored by the Federalist Society, the general counsel of Alliance for Defending Freedom was shouted down by students.
Subsequently, federal Judge James Ho said he would boycott clerks from Yale. He was later joined in the boycott by federal Judge Elizabeth Branch. On Twitter, Lee expressed concern that a similar scenario could impact BYU Law School.
“BYU’s law school has enjoyed phenomenal success over the last few decades (with graduates getting clerkships). ... A large percentage of those clerkships are offered by conservative judges, many of whom regard BYU as providing a refreshing contrast to so many Ivy League schools, where ideological diversity is at times cast aside as a sort of quaint, undesirable indulgence,” he wrote on Twitter.
BYU Law School’s statement concluded by affirming its commitment “to maintaining a vibrant intellectual community. We welcome a diversity of voices and beliefs, including those of the Federalist Society, in an environment of intellectual honesty, academic freedom, and abiding faith.”