Home » News » Official placed on leave, student hecklers unpunished over judge’s talk at Stanford

By Dennis Hetzel, published on March 24, 2023

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Green Library at Stanford University. Photo courtesy iStock: yhelfman

Students who disrupted a campus speech by a conservative federal judge won’t be disciplined by Stanford University Law School, but the school has placed an official on leave following her remarks during the March 5 incident, Reuters and other news outlets are reporting.


Dean Jenny Martinez wrote a 10-page public letter explaining the school’s response, saying that administrators didn’t enforce the school’s speech policy, which prohibits disruptive hecklers from shutting down speakers. She also said it would be difficult to differentiate between student protesters who were behaving within their rights and those who weren’t.


The protest occurred on March 5 as 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a Trump administration appointee, spoke to the campus chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, Reuters reported. Video clips showed Duncan having a hard time speaking over protesters’ shouts while refusing to answer some questions. Protesters claimed that Duncan has taken positions that threatened the rights of minority groups, including LGBTQ people, immigrants, blacks and women.


Stanford officials, including President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, publicly apologized to Duncan and Martinez went further in her letter, saying all Stanford law students will undergo training on “freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession.”


After the incident, Duncan expressed his own free-speech rights in a March 17 op-ed column for The Wall Street Journal in which he defended calling the students “appalling idiots” among other things.


“The protesters weren’t upset by the subject of my talk – a rather dry discourse on how circuit courts interact with the Supreme Court in times of doctrinal flux,” Duncan wrote in the Journal. “Rather, I was their target. While in practice, I represented clients and advanced arguments the protesters hate … “


In the newspaper column, Duncan also criticized the official who has now been placed on leave, Tirien Steinbach, the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, for her remarks to the students during his appearance in which she reportedly said Duncan’s appearance was painful for some students. Steinbach did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment on being placed on leave; nor did a law school spokeswoman answer a question on whether Steinbach’s leave was imposed or voluntary.


Martinez addressed Steinbach’s situation in the letter:


“Generally speaking, the university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters, and so I will not do so at this time,” she wrote. “I do want to express concern over the hateful and threatening messages she has received as a result of viral online and media attention and reiterate that actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the law permits. Finally, it should be obvious from what I have stated above that at future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard.”




Stanford Law official who admonished judge during speech is on leave, dean says | Reuters


Campus Speech Codes | The First Amendment Encyclopedia (mtsu.edu)


Academic Freedom | The First Amendment Encyclopedia (mtsu.edu)


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