It turns out that the disruption by several dozen Stanford University law school students of a speech to be given by federal judge Kyle Duncan was not a spontaneous exercise of freedom to protest.
It was a well-planned and carefully orchestrated effort to prevent other Stanford students from hearing the judge's conservative views. The disruption was organized by the local chapter of National Lawyers Guild as part of a nationwide effort to suppress conservative speech. Although not all the participants were associated with the NLG, the main organizers were. The Guild praised "every single person" who participated in the disruption, and called it "Stanford Law School at its best," suggesting it would confront "judicial architects of systems of oppression" with "social consequences for their actions." Here the consequences went beyond "social" to censorial.
Let us understand what the National Lawyers Guild is. Begun in the 1930s as an alternative to the American Bar Association, its original membership consisted of traditional left-wing liberals and communists. After Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union made the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, most of the liberals resigned. Adolf Berle, a prominent "New Dealer," quit because it had become obvious that the Guild "is not prepared to take any stand which conflicts with the Communist Party line."
When Hitler then broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union, the Guild changed its policy and rejected Hitler. After Japan attacked the United States in 1941, the Guild "remained silent" rather than oppose the internment of more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent.
In 1948, the Guild "supported the establishment of the State Israel" because that was the position of the Soviet Union. In 1967, the Soviet Union began to turn against Israel and increased support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), so did the Guild. Since that time, the Guild has been a strong supporter of Palestinian terrorism and other efforts to destroy Israel.
The Guild, in addition, refused to support Soviet or Cuban dissidents.
The Guild has never abandoned its Marxist-Leninist provenance. It supports Antifa, (see here, here, here and here) which also employs violence to disrupt speakers.
The National Lawyers Guild is not a liberal organization. It does not support civil liberties, due process or freedom of speech. It is the epitome of "free speech for me but not for thee." It will not be swayed by the argument that hateful, dangerous speech should be tolerated at any cost, and defines such speech broadly to include judicial decisions by Judge Duncan.
Many decent people question whether hateful, offensive and even speech deemed "dangerous" by some, should be protected. The answer resides in history. Whenever governments are empowered to ban such expression, they use that power expansively, to censor speech critical of their leaders or partisans. The appetite of the censor is voracious. What are seen as legitimate opinions by dissenters are deemed by others — especially those in power — as hateful, offensive or dangerous. Freedom of speech for all is anything but free. It can be hurtful and risky. But in the end, it is worth the costs.
The National Lawyers Guild seemingly despises America, and in 2020 passed a resolution declaring:
"The United States government is based on and dedicated to preserving white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy and imperialism... US uses its various government agencies to implement its policies and crush political resistance."
It deplores capitalism and the free market: "don't fund capitalism, fund the groups working to dismantle it." And it opposes due process for those with whom it disagrees, for instance, declaring of a "Mass Defense Program" that sends out "legal workers, law students, and lawyers providing legal support for protests":
"We will only show up to actions and in support of movements that directly align with our values."
This is not to say that all the students who participated in the Stanford disruption agree with these positions. Since its inception, the National Lawyers Guild has relied on "useful idiots" – well-meaning left-wingers and liberals who have no idea what the Guild really represents. It disguises its most extreme positions when presenting itself to the public, but advertises them to its members. It also hides from the public the fact that despite its name, the membership Guild consists primarily of non-lawyers. When it was truly a lawyers' organization, it was slightly more centrist. And then in the 1970s, the Guild opened its membership to "jailhouse lawyers" (who are not lawyers), legal workers (who are not lawyers), law students (who are not yet lawyers) and anyone else who works with or for lawyers or law firms.
The Guild has more than 100 chapters in American law schools. Its membership includes many law professors. It apparently plans to organize nationwide disruptions of the kind we have seen at Stanford. The Guild creates the illusion that these disruptions are spontaneous reactions to conservative provocations. They are anything but.
Demonstrations and protests are protected by the First Amendment and by the principles of free speech. Preventing speakers from addressing willing listeners is not. Nor is harassing students who invite conservative speakers, as the National Lawyers Guild has done. They violate not only the rights of the speakers they disrupt, but also of those students who came to hear them. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall observed: "The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin." These disrupters violated both rights.
Thus far disruptions have occurred at Yale, Stanford and Georgetown law schools. But you can be sure that they are coming to a law school near you. The NLG will not be satisfied until no conservative speaker is allowed to speak at any law school. That is its objective, and it may well succeed, because cowardly administrators — especially deans of diversity, in order to avoid the embarrassment of what happened at Stanford, Yale and Georgetown — will try to make sure that conservative speakers are not invited. They understand that it is much harder to object to the less visible non-invitation of conservative speakers than to publicly disrupting them.
We who support freedom of speech for all sides must organize as well. We cannot count on the American Civil Liberties Union anymore: its silence supports the censorship of the National Lawyers Guild. Our voices must be heard against censorship-by-disruption, by non-invitation or by any other improper means.
After my criticism of the events at Stanford were written, the Dean of the law school, Jenny Martinez, wrote a lengthy letter announcing that the diversity Dean, who improperly intervened in support of the disrupters, was on leave. The letter, which should be widely read, is an articulate defense of freedom of speech, academic freedom of students to hear controversial views, and university neutrality. She refused to accede to the demands of radical students that she take back her apology to Judge Duncan. She should be commended for her defense of constitutional values.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and the author most recently of Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute, and is also the host of "The Dershow" podcast.