Bloomberg Law
March 24, 2023, 5:53 PMUpdated: March 27, 2023, 12:33 PM

Stanford Protest a ‘Public Shaming,’ Judge Kyle Duncan Says (2)

Madison Alder
Madison Alder

US Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan welcomed Stanford Law’s requirement for all students to attend a free-speech program after protesters disrupted his appearance there in what he called a “staged public shaming.”

Duncan, a member of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, revisited the controversy on Friday and praised Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez’ handling of the matter.

“I’m cautiously encouraged that Stanford has promised to implement some form of training for students on the virtues of civil discourse,” Duncan said in an appearance at Notre Dame. “I hope it’s only the beginning.”

Duncan, a Trump appointee who received a warm reception at the event sponsored by the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government at the school, declined to say whether students who interrupted his remarks at the Stanford event March 9 should be disciplined.

“I’m not going to tell a private university what to do. That’s up to them to follow their own rules and norms,” Duncan said.

Responding to the Stanford event, two other circuit judges said law schools should consider informing potential employers if students participate in protests that disrupt speakers on campus. Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho and Eleventh Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote in the National Review that law schools should punish students who participate in “disruptive tactics” and said they’re failing to “teach students how to become good citizens.”

LGBTQ Pushback

Duncan faced pushback from civil and LGBTQ rights organizations after he was nominated to the Fifth Circuit in 2017. Citing his past legal work, those organizations argued he took positions that were harmful to the LGBTQ community.

Videos of the Stanford event posted online show Duncan facing off with protesters who were critical of him personally and his rulings. The event is the latest in incidents where a conservative speaker has been met with protesters at law schools, prompting debates about free speech in legal education.

Duncan had harsh words for the Stanford protesters on Friday, saying they were there to “heckle” and to “shame.”

“Let’s say the quiet part out loud. The mob came to target me because they hated my work and my ideas,” said Duncan.

On Thursday, a Stanford administrator who received conservative criticism for remarks she delivered after she stepped in at the March 9 event stood by her comments in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach, who is currently on leave, said she used de-escalation techniques she’d been trained in, including “getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people.”

“My intention wasn’t to confront Judge Duncan or the protesters but to give voice to the students so that they could stop shouting and engage in respectful dialogue,” Steinbach wrote.

One video of the event posted by the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, shows Steinbach stepping in and speaking to the room. She told Duncan: “Your advocacy, your opinions from the bench, land as absolute disenfranchisement of their rights,” referring to the students. But Steinbach also told Duncan he was welcome in the space.

Martinez disclosed that Steinbach was on leave in the same Wednesday memo to students announcing the free speech training. Martinez didn’t elaborate why but added that all staff would receive training on the school’s policy allowing protest but not disruption of events.

Duncan wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last week in which he defended his comments to the student protesters, including calling them “appalling idiots,” “bullies,” and “hypocrites.” He said sometimes anger is the appropriate response to “vicious behavior.”

(Updates with other circuit judges' reaction to Stanford event in paragraph 6. A previous version of this story was corrected over misidentification of the Notre Dame event's sponsor. It was the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at

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