Bloomberg Law
March 15, 2023, 4:12 PM

Stanford Law Students Are Fueling the Right-Wing Agenda

Vivia Chen
Vivia Chen

Shiny stars of the progressive legal world keep shooting themselves in the foot, as if they’re secretly on the payroll of Fox News or the Ron DeSantis campaign.

I’m talking about the Stanford Law School students who disrupted a speech by Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, a Trump appointee.

“Student protesters booed and made various loud comments, frequently drowning out his voice,” the Stanford Daily reports. Eventually, the judge left in a huff, though “in between jeers and disruptions by protestors Duncan often sparred back, sometimes speaking directly to individual audience members.” He told one protester: “You’re an appalling idiot.”

Of course, the right wing is having a field day pushing the narrative that elite law schools are run by out-of-control wokesters. (For a blow by blow of last week’s l’affaire Duncan/Stanford, check out David Lat’s Original Jurisdiction.)

In the public relations war, it’s pretty obvious who’s winning this round. Though Duncan is on the far right spectrum—his career highlights include challenging the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act and defending Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage—it’s hard to argue that a sitting federal judge should be denied the opportunity to speak in an academic setting.

Considering these protesters are some of the best and brightest law students in the land, you’d think they would be more mindful about protecting free speech. But for a group of brainiacs, they seem remarkably clueless.

Certainly, being young and callow comes into play. But is it also arrogance—the arrogance that comes from going to a rarefied place like Stanford Law that makes students feel superior? (Fun fact: Among the invectives students shouted at Duncan, a graduate of Louisiana State University Law School, “You couldn’t get into Stanford!”)

Given the grief Yale Law School got last year when student protesters disrupted a panel discussion featuring conservative lawyers, you’d think the Stanford students would know better. (In reaction to that aborted discussion, Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho announced he wouldn’t hire Yale Law School graduates going forward. Yale eventually extended an olive branch to Ho, inviting him to speak at the school.)

But it’s not just the students. Stanford Law’s associate dean of diversity Tirien Steinbach sided with the protesters, telling the judge in front of the audience, “your work has caused harm.”

Duncan demanded an apology, and voilà, got his wish—and then some. Law school dean Jenny Martinez apologized, joined by university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne. While Martinez’s gesture was appropriate, the president’s apology seems excessive—elevating Duncan’s complaint to unnecessary heights.

And so down the rabbit hole of apologies we go.

Indeed, Duncan seems emboldened to demand more. He told the Washington Free Beacon that Stanford should discipline the students and fire its DEI dean. Lat also reports that he told conservative pundit Ed Whelan: “I hope a similar apology is tendered to the persons in the Stanford Law School community most harmed by the mob action: the members of the Federalist Society,” whom he described as “a small group, obviously way outnumbered,” lacking in “power and status at Stanford Law.”

Members of the Federalist Society are downtrodden?

“They are not oppressed,” Ralph Richard Banks, a Stanford Law professor and co-founder of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice, told me. “They have a lot of opportunities,” noting how members get coveted clerkships with conservative judges. That said, he added, “their views are squelched in class.”

No doubt, top law schools skew liberal, but when will these brilliant progressive law students stop playing into the right wing agenda? Don’t hold your breath.

“Everybody wants to be the one who’s put upon,” Banks said. “Black students have legitimate grievances, but so does the conservative Southern pro-life White woman in the class. The reality is that we all have our struggles but the extremes dominate the conversation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivia Chen in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alison Lake at; Gregory Henderson at

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