"WTF Is Wrong With You": Columbia Center & Law Students Protest Meeting With Justice Kavanaugh
Columbia University law students and alums are in an uproar over an Instagram post that showed students in the Federalist Society meeting with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the Court.
It would ordinarily be a singular experience for law students to spend time with one of the nine justices.
That is not how it went over at Columbia where some are outraged by the meeting and Columbia’s posting the picture on its social media account.
The Empowering Women of Color group announced it was “withdrawing our participation from Columbia Law School recruiting events.”
Columbia’s own Center for Engaged Pedagogy, simply declared “WTF is wrong with you.”
With the posting, Columbia offered the following description:
“On February 23, members of the Columbia Federalist Society (@clsfedsoc) visited the Supreme Court of the United States to engage in conversation with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. During the visit, they learned about the human side of being a justice, the Court’s deliberation process, and how to be an effective advocate. Justice Kavanaugh also answered questions about a few of his most famous opinions.”
That would seem precisely the type of opportunity that a premier law school seeks to make available to its students. However, Kavanaugh remains persona non grata due to his conservative jurisprudence and allegations from his confirmation hearings. It does not matter that Kavanaugh (who was later the subject of an assassination attempt) was never charged with any crime and vehemently denies the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford.
Those opposing any engagement with Kavanaugh raised both his legal viewpoints and the assault allegations.
The Black Law Students Association wrote on behalf of a large number of groups to oppose the posting and to “put the administration on notice” that it is unacceptable for law students to meet with the justice — or for the law school to support it.
“We believe that our school’s choice to platform Justice Kavanaugh is symbolic of a pattern of behavior that our organization does not and will not support and will not be affiliated with. We thank LALSA, NALSA, EWOC, OutLaws, QTPOC, IfWhenHow, APALSA, SALSA, and others, for joining us in this advocacy and struggle. We look forward to continued collaboration. By joining us in this effort, you have all helped put the administration on notice that we have a strong and growing collective.”
The objection to “platforming” Kavanaugh is telling. Deplatforming is a major tool used by the anti-free speech movement.
As discussed earlier, former Dartmouth Professor Mark Bray is the author of a book entitled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” and one of the chief enablers of these protesters. Bray describes Antifa as “a pan-left radical politics uniting communists, socialists, anarchists and various different radical leftists together for the shared purpose of combating the far right.” However, the broader anti-free speech movement shares the same underlying opposition to “platforming” of those with opposing views.
Bray speaks positively of the effort to supplant traditional views of free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase… that says I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He defines anti-fascists as “illiberal” who reject the notion that far right views deserve to “coexist” with opposing views.
Bray says that the protesters do not “see fascism or white supremacy as a view with which they disagree as a difference of opinion.” Their goal is not co-existence but “to end their politics.” Bray and other academics are liberating students from the confines of what they deem the false “allegiance to liberal democracy.” Once freed of the values of free speech and democratic values, violence becomes merely politics by other means. When pushed, Bray stressed that Antifa is only a threat to one side and one party:
“There is a certain political lens that — agree or disagree with the lens — there is an element of continuity in terms of the types of groups targeted. I don’t know of any Democratic Party events that have been ‘no platformed,’ or shut down by anti-fascists. So there is a political lens, people will quibble about what the lens is, who designs the lens, but I don’t think the slippery slope is actually, in practice, nearly as much of a concern as people imagine it would be.”
The Empowering Women of Color group rejected the position of Columbia that it should maintain a neutral and tolerant position on such events or speakers:
“We cannot condone complicity with a man who is credibly accused of sexual assault. The insinuation from the Communications Office that the post was neutral and just the Law School’s way of highlighting activities students are participating in is laughable and untrue. A post of this kind, with its caption, is a terrifying stamp of approval.”
In other words, there is no neutrality. Columbia is expected to refuse to participate or recognize any event with the justice, who has never been charged, let alone convicted, of any crime.
However, it is the posting of the Center, as an official office of Columbia University, that is most alarming. The Center account was used to object: “WTF is wrong with you. Ah yes. Every day I wake up wondering what is the day in the life of someone who strips people’s rights away.” The Center helps design curriculum and methods of teaching for Columbia and states a mission of instilling “abolitionist” values:
“The CEP invites faculty, students, and staff to participate in a spring discussion group and incubation space focused on using abolitionist thinking to challenge our existing pedagogical practices and the way we live our lives. Participants will use abolitionist values to create personal and pedagogical praxes, come up with actionable plans toward a meaningful material transformation of the world.”
Those “plans” apparently do not involve principles of diversity of thought, due process, or free speech. Unless this is an unapproved posting, the Center is suggesting that law students should not meet with Kavanaugh and that the law school should not support any events with the justice.
I have no problem with the protesting of these groups, though I strongly disagree with their position.
However, the involvement of an office or department of the university is deeply concerning. If this was an unapproved posting, Columbia should make that clear. If it was a statement on behalf of Columbia’s Center, the university should explain how this is consistent with its commitment to free speech and tolerance for opposing views of its students and faculty.