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Ruminations by an Ancient Lawyer about Respect, Courtesy, and the Braying Brats of Stanford Law School
This will be the cry of sadness of an elder at what has been inflicted upon our society by the “woke” generation, a society that is, and I pray may be again, the greatest experiment in self-governance ever devised by the mind of man. If you do not want to hear the anguished sounds of an old lawyer from another time at the tragedies and travesties he sees all around him, this is not for you. But after thinking for some time about our societal collapse—decay actually—and being especially mortified by the disgraceful conduct of the “students” at Stanford Law School and the disgraceful way they treated a very senior member of the Federal Judiciary when he tried to address them recently, I decided I would jot down some reflections on “the way things were” not really very long ago as the flow of history goes.
I was in Law School over a half-century ago. While X-gens (or is it Z? I can’t keep track) might see that as some pre-modern era like the Stone Age, in the scheme of things it is relatively recent.
I came to Law School after serving our Nation as a member of the United States Air Force (Strategic Air Command), an experience that influenced the rest of my life in many ways, irrevocably. Thus, I entered Law School with a deep commitment to the practices and customs of respect and honor I learned in the military and had learned for years previous to that service from our parents.
We had professors in our days in Law School to whom the very thought of “protesting” never, never, ever came to mind, and one of them would have made Prof. Kingsfield in The Paper Chase look like Mr. Rogers. The words icy, forbidding, stern, austere, demanding, among others, come to mind in trying to describe him. I remember right now, more decades later than I care to mention, the first time I was called on by this professor — not to get too graphic, but a change of clothing was very nearly necessitated before I managed — miraculously — to get out the right answer.
While this particular professor was the most demanding, all of them insisted on basic rules of decorum in the classroom, and the likelihood of raising my voice to any of them was roughly on the level of speaking disrespectfully to our Commanding General in the Air Force, named, appropriately, General Strong.
Upon further reflection, I should note an amendment to the above statement about our professors “insisting” upon proper decorum; I do not recall a single instance in which any member of the faculty or the administration “demanded” that we adhere to the norms of proper behavior which then governed society. It was simply understood that such was expected; no big black-letter posters needed to be placed at the entrance to the classrooms “instructing” us to conduct ourselves like the professionals we hoped to be someday. It was like the story of a waitress in a Southern café who told the patron from the North that he didn’t need to order grits with his breakfast — “they just come.”
Any attempt at quantifying the differences between that world of the early ‘60s and the indescribably savage scene which took place at Stanford recently simply fails for words. There is quite simply no basis for comparison. There will never be a day when I could even imagine any such conduct in our classrooms. Our Dean, eons before the toxic DEI poison started infecting our institutions of higher education, was a highly respected legal scholar who had served as Counsel to the Nuremberg Trials.
These thoughts from long ago and seemingly from another world were jarred loose recently by several pieces discussing this bizarre aberration which took place at one of the – allegedly! – most prestigious law schools in the country, Stanford Law School. One article, Me and the Despicable Canines at Stanford Law, spoke to my exact reactions to the mindless mob of miscreants who shouted down Judge Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals along with the ignoramus “Dean” who rudely taunted the Judge and cheered on the mob.
I cannot recommend highly enough a full reading of this witty, carefully reasoned, albeit deeply troubling article by one of my favorite legal analysts, Dov Fischer, but some highlights will hopefully capture the essence of the piece. To begin with, it is the mark of a very accomplished writer to be able to capture in an eight-word title the very essence of the two main subjects of the article – the astonishingly rude conduct of the students and even more, if that is possible, the inexcusably disrespectful and confrontational conduct of the “Dean” in her comments to Judge Duncan. For those with a strong stomach who would like to see for themselves the full panoply of grotesque behavior, the video can be accessed here.
There are voluminous analyses of what happened at Stanford Law School on March 7, 2023, available by simply Googling “Judge Duncan Stanford Law” for those interested in doing a deeper dive into this wretched display of juvenile behavior. They range from opinions similar to those held by yours truly all the way across the spectrum to those who argue that Judge Duncan came across as a bully to a column arguing (I’m not making this up!) that disrupting the scheduled lecture of an Article III Judge with the vilest of screamed insults (examples of some of which cannot be included here as they are not fit for civil society) is protected speech under the First Amendment. I will discuss several of the first category here and include links to the others for those of a sturdy intestinal fortitude.
A most fitting point of departure for this discussion, however, has to be the piece cited above by Dov Fischer as it is clearly one of the most witty, incisive, and rapier-sharp treatments of the entire imbroglio. I have to resist the urge to take my chances with trademark violations and just set out the entire piece, so here are a few of the more –there is no better word to describe them – delicious passages.
After a brief dissection of the insultingly poor grammar used by the (it pains me to accord her this title of respect) “Dean” who encouraged this pack of hyenas, he notes what this incident really represented:
This week, our country saw something far more worrisome than the predictable collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. We saw the further degrading of our culture to the degree that so-called “law students” at a so-called premium university barked and yipped like dogs and disrupted a speech by an Article III judge, the Hon. Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He had been invited to address the conservative and libertarian Federalist Society of Stanford Law School, and the dogs who masquerade as “law students” at Stanford came to bark and growl and howl and bay and yelp and whimper. Caninites, if not Philistines.
Flashback from my senior year at LSU Law School: one of our professors invited a Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court to address our class. I remember the occasion quite clearly, which speaks to the impression it made on me and how deeply I valued the opportunity to hear a Justice of our High Court in person. I remember his name, Justice Hamlin (he was one of the signers of my Law License, about which more later), and the one thing I do not remember about that memorable event in my earlier years was anything even faintly resembling heckling or rude comments.
Fischer then recounts basic principles we have all been taught by our parents, teachers, and mentors since time immemorial — perhaps it would be more accurate to say since the time before the “woke” virus started infecting our society:
The America I always knew is one where you respect a police officer even when he or she is a jerk and worse. You respect your parents and do not share their secrets and disclose their private life experiences in a movie about your life. You respect your teachers and never would threaten them with a lawsuit but revere them if they truly teach you knowledge and independent thinking skills as well as real math, reading, true history, and honest science. And, omigosh, you respect judges.
He then unsheathes his scalpel to address the truly bizarre performance of the “Dean” of that awful, toxic phenomenon, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
But someone who had a big part to do with it was the moron and toxic blight at Stanford whom they call the Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
…These DEI deans are malignancies on the body academic, absolute poison.
…This Assistant Dean of DEI cannot even speak unmarred, educated English. She said that even “abhorrent speech” should not be censored “because me and many people in this administration do absolutely believe in free speech.” Well, me and many people regard her as an idiot …
Judge Duncan recounted his experience at the hands of the barbarians of Stanford Law in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, My Struggle Session at Stanford Law School. A few highlights follow, including one particular vile epithet hurled at the Judge, which may speak the loudest of all the insults about the “quality” of lawyers Stanford Law is sending to (inflicting upon!) the public:
When I arrived, the walls were festooned with posters denouncing me for crimes against women, gays, blacks and “trans people.” Plastered everywhere were photos of the students who had invited me and fliers declaring “You should be ASHAMED,” with the last word in large red capital letters and a horror-movie font. This didn’t seem “collegial.” Walking to the building where I would deliver my talk, I could hear loud chanting a good 50 yards away, reminiscent of a tent revival in its intensity. Some 100 students were massed outside the classroom as I entered, faces painted every color of the rainbow, waving signs and banners, jeering and stamping and howling. As I entered the classroom, one protester screamed: “We hope your daughters get raped!”
He then recounted his exchange with the aforementioned “Dean”:
I asked again what she meant, and she finally put the question plainly: Was my talk “worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes?” Again she asserted her belief in free speech before equivocating: “I understand why people feel like the harm is so great that we might need to reconsider those policies, and luckily, they’re in a school where they can learn the advocacy skills to advocate for those changes.” Then she turned the floor back over to me, while hoping I could “learn too” and “listen through your partisan lens, the hyperpolitical lens.” In closing, she said: “I look out and I don’t ask, ‘What’s going on here?’ I look out and I say, ‘I’m glad this is going on here.’ ” This is on video, and the entire event is on audio, in case you’re wondering.
Think about that: what was not long ago regarded as one of the most prestigious law schools in the country pays actual American dollars to hire a “Dean” who does not know proper grammar and employs phrases out of the Urban Dictionary to communicate her thoughts – or lack thereof.
Two Federal Judges, one a colleague of Judge Duncan on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge James Ho, and the other a Judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge Elizabeth Branch, offered these observations about the incident in a column entitled Stop the Chaos: Law Schools Need to Crack Down on Student Disrupters Now:
Unfortunately, too many educational institutions have stopped teaching students an essential skill of citizenship: knowing how to agree to disagree with one another. What we’re seeing instead is antithetical both to the academy and to America at large. We don’t disagree — we destroy. We don’t talk — we tweet. We live in a culture of cancellation, not conversation. We don’t engage with one another — we expel people from social and economic life. It’s unsustainable — and, we fear, existential.
…But everyone’s scared to do anything. We’re the opposite of the Greatest Generation. We’re leaving our country worse off, not better, for the next generation.
…Otherwise, more and more employers may start to reach the same conclusion that we did last fall — that we have no choice but to stop hiring from these schools in the future. At the end of the day, that may be the only way to send a message that will resonate with law schools — judges and other employers imposing consequences on law schools who refuse to impose consequences on their own. No one is required to hire students who aren’t taught to live under the rule of law.
A highly respected law professor and frequent commentator on the law and the Courts, Jonathan Turley, reported on a few facts revealed by what he accurately termed a “chilling” poll in Our Rising Generation of Censors: Stanford and Davis Expose America’s Anti-Free Speech Movement:
It is the face of a rising generation of censors and speech phobics that has been carefully cultivated by many in academia. Our institutions of higher education have become academic echo chambers where opposing views are no longer tolerated and preventing free speech is claimed to be acts of free speech.
A chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech. Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.
It is not just difficult for a lawyer of my vintage to grasp the fact that almost a quarter of college students think violence can be used to stop the free speech of another—it is impossible to believe that our country has descended that far into sheer anarchy.
The discussion of this incident with the greatest intellectual depth came, as usual, from the pen (there I go again, dating myself!) of the brilliant observer of the cultural scene, Heather Macdonald of the Manhattan Institute. Her lengthy dissection of this outrage was entitled Dismantle DEI Ideology and subtitled The disgraceful scenes at Stanford are a flawless embodiment of how diversity doctrine distorts academic life and constrains decision-making. For purposes of this discussion, the following highlights will suffice, although a full reading of this piece is highly recommended:
Duncan does not subscribe to contemporary academic orthodoxies. Before becoming a judge, he had written a law-review article as a private lawyer, arguing that the definition of marriage should be left to the states. He had represented a Virginia school board that opposed allowing high-school boys to use girls’ bathrooms. And once on the bench, Duncan had declined to use “she” to refer to a male prisoner federally convicted of possessing child pornography.
Thus, according to a large contingent of the student body, Duncan was unfit to set foot in the Stanford Law School. The Outlaws—a self-described “social, support, and political group” that actively combats “homophobia, transphobia, [and] heterosexism” at the law school—were joined by the National Lawyers Guild chapter and other left-wing student groups in demanding that Duncan’s speech be moved off campus or held exclusively via Zoom. Never mind that Duncan’s speech would have nothing to do with “gender” issues. He would allegedly have put the “safety” of Stanford’s “marginalized” students at risk simply by being on campus.
There are a multitude of analyses of this disgraceful episode available. However, next to being in the room where these creatures acted out, there is no better way to experience the full affront to simple decency and courtesy of these brats, as George Will called them in his column in the Washington Post, than to view the video and, more painfully, listen to the audio recording of the entire miserable fiasco. It may be accessed here, along with an abbreviated transcript of portions of the mayhem created by the little cretins who one day will be [mis?]representing clients and pretending to be actual advocates. My general impression – I listened to every single minute – was one of pure revulsion; I felt that I was listening to feeding time on Monkey Hill at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Taking my cue from one of the articles I read in researching for this piece, I took a look at my license to remind myself of the oath I swore to in the Louisiana Supreme Court on June 13, 1962. I solemnly swore to, “demean myself honestly in my practice as Counsellor and Attorney at Law.”
Maybe a better wordsmith than I could square the words of that oath with the yelping juveniles I heard on that audio — from both “students of the law” and the “Dean” — I cannot.
As is often the case, one of the best summaries of the entire sordid affair was written by the classical scholar, author, and commentator Roger Kimball in the journal he edits, The New Criterion (highly recommended). He gives his piece, in his customary wry and witty way, the title “Juiced at Stanford,” and his conclusion is as follows:
For its part, the Stanford administration emitted one of those non-apologetic apologies meant to save face without acknowledging responsibility and certainly without admitting to anything like remorse. It wasn’t much of an apology, but that didn’t stop hundreds of entitled Stanford brats from lining the halls of the law school to protest against Jenny Martinez, the dean, for apologizing to Judge Duncan.
What just happened at Stanford Law School marks a new chapter in the disintegration of foundational American institutions. Absent the rule of law, civil society cannot exist. The rule of brute force intercedes. The triumph of the therapeutic mindset does not entirely explain that disaster. But it has provided critical rationalizations and emotional fuel for the victory of a worldview in which law, argument, and reason itself are subordinated to the cold calculus of the revolutionary impulse.
For my part, I can only surmise that if these escapees from childcare are the next generation of advocates for our citizens before the Bar of Justice, our Republic is in far more danger than those perils posed by the many vagaries of our current politics, the unrest around the world or the border crisis, to name a few examples. If American citizens have to look to these puerile brats for zealous advocacy of their cause, the American Rule of Law will be rendered meaningless. Then, as Sir Thomas More famously asked, where do they turn?Published in General
When a society stands aside and allows for DEI policies to reign supreme inside college and university administrations, even as liberal DEI admission policies bring the brainwashed, semi-literate and uneducated philistines to occupy seats inside the classrooms, then what else can be expected other than mob rule by students condoned by the DEI dean?
I have watched for 20 years as policies of “tolerance” and “anti-racism” replaced necessary and crucial standards inside so many various fields of endeavor that as shocking as this event was, I was on so many levels prepared for it.
Health care systems in California have been transformed into employment opportunities for the unqualified, because to ask, as the state law requires, that health workers in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes be fluent in English is “racist.” So it is decided that actually demanding that health workers have a background in health is also racist. (If a society cannot demand that workers learn English, which used to be the bare minimum, then how much more racist is it to expect an individual to fulfill the arduous skill set and knowledge base required of everyone from nursing assistants to nurses to doctors?)
Grammar schools in San Francisco Bay area neighborhoods are now manned not so much by teachers but by newly arrived immigrants who tick off all the right boxes for the DEI-run teacher’s union. And among those boxes to be ticked off are “semi-literate” in English and Spanish, as well as such job holders being lacking in interpersonal skills, and totally non-interested in being around students.
So although it is a great shame that a university that once took pride in developing great legal minds is now more interested in colorful, passionate rebellions against the established patriarchy, this mob rule by students was the next inevitable step downward.
May God help us all.
I’m going to read the whole thing, Jim, but I think that you’re referring to Gen Z, the latest one coming of age.
I’m a Gen-Xer, and I’m 55. So being in law school over a half century ago is a bit before my time, but not by much. I remember black-and-white TVs, and phones still attached to the wall. :)
Great post, Jim.
The one thing that I would add is to blame these puerile brats a bit less, and blame their teachers more. From what I’ve heard generally, though not about Stanford in particular, it is the DEI departments and administrators who teach the kids this nonsense.
By “DEI department,” I don’t mean formal DEI programs, but rather the various departments that gave rise to the whole ideology — mainly education (perhaps the worst of all), anything with “studies” in the title, and to an somewhat lesser extent, the bulk of the social sciences.
I think that the challenge, though, is how to stop them. Their malicious nonsense should be banned, by somebody. It would have been nice if the university faculty or administration had shut down such bad ideas decades ago, but they didn’t. They either agree, or they’re cowed into submission.
These institutions are generally supported by a great deal of public money, even private universities like Stanford. What do you think about de-funding?
One does not get into law school, especially a top one [allegedly] like Stanford, without earning high marks in a four-year undergraduate degree. I suspect for a lot of these punks, they learned the Narrative and their DEI lessons well in those four years of indoctrination. Also, for those so inclined, they picked up the tactics of the “struggle session” as the judge so aptly described it. Right out of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution.
As another old lawyer, class of ’77, I remember that while we had a Black Law Students Assn and an Hispanic Law Students Assn, these were social clubs, not revolutionary cells. Critical Legal Studies was a baby theory of jurisprudence then, given almost no time or credence by our faculty.
Now? It’s all Marxism, all the way down. Even though I suspect these punks are not well enough educated, merely credentialed, to know that is what they are espousing.
Terrific post Jim. Similar experience only in reverse. Law School first then U.S. Navy. For all the hype about Stanford Law, and know many of their graduates practicing in the Bay area, the tuition (is it $100K a year yet?) must be the monumental waste of money in the U.S. Yale Law might be close. But several U.S. Circuit Judges starting their law clerk boycotts from brown shirt law school students. Wonder if it will have much effect.
I had occasion to attend three Capital Case Defense Seminars (the last one I attended was in Jan 2020)
I assume most of the attendees were Capital case lawyers – or people like me, who worked for one and spent three days skipping into interesting conferences and helping old lawyers figure out QR codes.
I was privy to discussion between the lawyer I worked for, and a lawyer who was teaching and giving examples on how to make a deal, take death penalty off the table and trade for LWOP (in one case, they threw in a fire engine. I kid you not)
The lawyer I worked for kept saying : no no no. Go to trial!
The teacher of the class, later over drinks, told the lawyer I worked for that lawyers now-a-days just weren’t smart enough; certainly not smart enough to roll the dice on a defendant’s life.
Obviously, every lawyer attending was an ideologue- no death penalty no matter what.
But what occurred to me was that it was cheap grace: they were morally superior because of their beliefs, and that was enough. No need to be smarter. Or better.
A part of the problem on display at Stanford Law is the lack of respect or even concern for any people who came before “me” and thus any history, a condition that is permeating culture. I suppose the Baby Boomers (I am mid-Baby Boomer, born 1956) and the “don’t trust anyone over 30 culture of the 1960s can be blamed for starting the ball rolling. But in my mind President Obama really expressed the new culture. He on multiple occasions dismissed anything that occurred before him as irrelevant or of no interest. That attitude of not being interested in what came before would cause today’s people also to not be interested in who came before, and thus have no respect for them or their humanity.
[My own law school introduction was being filleted by the most mild-mannered Contracts professor anyone could imagine, but he really cut apart my arguments about implied contracts, to be sealed in the memories of my classmates who watched, happy that it wasn’t them on the hot seat, a memory that still circulates at class reunions 40 years later.]
It took quite a while, but the experiment has failed. 😞
Excellent. Thank you for taking the time.
I don’t believe that the experiment has failed. But it could, and I think we’re in for a world of hurt in any case. Hopefully it will be character building.
Any one of those law students could have earned — earned, I say — a clerkship anywhere by being the first to speak out forcefully against the unfolding debacle. Would not even have needed to prevail. Just to be caught on camera doing the right thing.
Henry, thank you very much for this kind comment; it did take quite a while but I was determined to say it even though some of my fellow colleagues might not like hearing it. One of the very few things about reaching a certain advanced level of “maturity” is that when one says I don’t care, one can actually mean it!
I’m including @TheodoricofFreiberg on this note as I wanted to tell him that I accidentally pressed the “like” key to his comment while out walking my pup but, and this is not personal as to the author of the comment, I did not “like” his comment at all– I agree with Henry and do not believe we are at a point where we can definitively say the experiment has definitely failed. I fear that time will be much closer if someone of the ilk of the pathetic excuse for a “President” wins in 2024, even if he is a puppet like this one is, as he will be surrounded by the same group of dedicated Marxists and will read off the same note cards and prepared TelePrompter remarks they will write for him just as they are doing for the present occupant.
Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful comments. Jim
Excellent comment and one which reflects my thought as I was going through the extremely painful process of watching the video and even more painful process of listening to the audio– I kept asking myself “where are the Federalist Society members, even just one, to stand up and tell these privileged little brats that they should be ashamed of themselves for treating a Senior Federal Appellate Judge in this disgusting manner.?” I cannot even imagine what the Judge must have thought as he was undergoing this abomination.
To get the full flavor of what this “Dean” did here and why it is clear that she did not just codone their misconduct, she actively encouraged it, it is necessary to watch the video and then listen to the audio as it becomes clear that she had remarks all prepared for the occasion and was fully prepared to defend her poor (contradiction in terms considering the tuition their parents paid for them), triggered, hurt, endangered, wounded little charges. I got a special chuckle-not that there was anything the least bit funny about it- in one comment she made in which she told the rioters and yelpers and screamers that anytime they “felt uncomfortable” they could just leave the room! The reason I grinned at this inane comment was that I remembered the many times I would be at the podium arguing a motion, or in the middle of an argument to the jury, etc., and get very rudely and loudly interrupted by the Judge — believe me, as any actual lawyer with actual courtroom experience will tell you, at times like that you do not just announce you “feel uncomfortable” and simply walk out the back door of the courtroom. At least not unless you won’t mind spending the night in a cell on a charge of open and contumacious contempt of Court. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Jim.
I have argued cases before appellate courts in my jurisdiction, and there were a few occasions in my toughest cases where the court’s disdain for my arguments was palpable in their very pointed and hostile questioning. Does one wilt? No. One does not. One meets the hostility to one’s argument with rational counterpoints. I fear the Stanford snowflakes, like the Harvard 1L in Paper Chase, need to phone home to Mummy, because they have no chance of becoming a real lawyer.
The appellate courts were the one group I never had problems with. Tended to be the more experienced judges. And three of them so one idiot questioning you would not necessarily reflect how it will come out. Ask me again in a year after two of my biggest appeals. But even California appellate judges are pretty fair. But not a criminal lawyer like Amy so never had to risk swimming in that swamp (teasing, Amy).
Think big. They’ll take over and change the law so that courts can not oppose the Correct Opinion, not even with micro-aggressions from the bench.
Everybody knows what the Correct Opinion is. Arguing against it would be contempt.
The defense attorneys for the Proud Boys are certainly butting heads over such a situation in the here and now.
Imagine being a defense attorney for someone hit with a trumped up charge of conspiracy to incite a riot and then having the court tell you that according to the latest definition of “conspiracy” none of the involved parties needed to have discussed a plan or a goal!
Why would I hire any of those people to the legal team to represent my company? The last several years of my career were in house counsel in charge of hiring law firms for specific projects. If they can’t bear to tolerate disagreement they aren’t going to be a very effective advocate for my company.
My daughter in law (in law school) says the only thing the Stanford students are being trained for is to be law professors.
Higher education worships itself, and each Dean is a God. Acolytes (and sacrifices), not students.