ACLU

ACLU Says Harvard 'Sacrificed Principles Central to Our Legal System' When It Fired Ron Sullivan

The civil liberties giant defends a law professor who took on Harvey Weinstein as a client.

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The American Civil Liberties Union has come to the defense of Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan, who recently lost his position as faculty dean of Winthrop House after activist students demanded his ouster.

Many of these students were furious that Sullivan—a celebrated expert on criminal justice reform who has represented many controversial clients in the past—joined the defense team of accused rapist Harvey Weinstein. They contended that Sullivan's actions were "deeply trauma-inducing" for survivors of sexual violence and had the effect of making Winthrop House an unsafe place.

It was a grave mistake for Harvard to capitulate to the students' demands, write ACLU Legal Director David Cole and ACLU–Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose:

The ACLU is committed to fighting sexual assault, in the workplace, the home, on campus, and in the world at large. At the same time, Weinstein, like every person accused of a crime, is presumed innocent in his criminal case unless he pleads or is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Commitment to that principle, and to the system mandated by our Constitution, means we are equally devoted to the principle that every criminal defendant, no matter how vilified, no matter how innocent or guilty, and no matter how poor or rich, deserves a lawyer. If the latter principle is to be respected, it is essential that society not conflate a criminal defense lawyer's representation with his or her client's acts….

The student protests at Harvard provided the institution with an opportunity. It could have used the incident as a teachable moment about the importance of criminal defense in our society as well as about the importance of tolerance on a campus of higher learning. It could have demonstrated that there is a fundamental distinction between a lawyer and his clients—and that our system of rights depends on that distinction. Instead, it sacrificed principle in an apparent quest for an easy way out.

What lesson does that teach?

I've previously expressed concern that the ACLU may be retreating from some of its previously ironclad commitments to defend free speech and due process when these principles come into conflict with the priorities of the new intersectional left, which is less thrilled about extending legal protections to people they dislike. But the organization's defense of Sullivan is a powerful counterexample, and I couldn't be happier that Cole and Rose decided to weigh in this way.

 

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  1. And the ACLU knows all about sacrificing its principles.

    1. Surely it would be preferable to assert that the ACLU has wisely distanced itself from a number of inappropriate policies, such as the “free speech” baloney we keep hearing about from certain quarters.

      At the same time, let us not forget that the ACLU has also wisely litigated a number of so-called easy cases in this area, so that no one can accuse the organization of abandoning, for example, the principle that it should, at least for the time being, be perfectly legal to state an opinion, as long as one does so in a sufficiently polite manner.

      On the other hand, everyone knows that some acts of provocation must not be regarded as “speech,” and are appropriately criminalized, especially when dignity and academic reputations are at stake. See, in this regard, the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “parody” case at:

      https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

      1. “such as the ‘free speech’ baloney we keep hearing about from certain quarters.”

        Can you be more specific?

        1. Sure. The author of the above article misleadingly asserts that “the ACLU may be retreating from some of its previously ironclad commitments to defend free speech.” Contrary to what that assertion implies, the ACLU has appropriately refrained, for example, from quarreling with Eugene Volokh’s principled, conservative stand on the constitutionality of criminal libel. So-called “international human rights” organizations have foolishly argued that to jail perpetrators of libel poses a “free expression” problem. Abhorrent legal “defense” counsel arguments, but not ACLU involvement, led, unfortunately, to New York’s harassment statute being declared “unconstitutional” because it appropriately allowed prosecutors to criminalize annoying “speech.” Some American academics have even argued that forms of “parody” that are deceitfully disrespectful of distinguished faculty members here at NYU should not be criminalized. See, e.g., http://forward.com/opinion/385050/ The ACLU has wisely stayed mostly silent on such matters.

          1. P.s. I might also point out that law enforcement authorities, for example, have had to arrest and prosecute people around the country for doing such things as defacing the sidewalk by illegally writing indecent anti-bank slogans on it with chalk, in plain view of ordinary passing citizens. I don’t recall seeing any noticeable ACLU involvement in such cases, and for good reason.

  2. “Welcome to the party, Pal!”

  3. “I’ve previously expressed concern that the ACLU may be retreating from some of its previously ironclad commitments to defend free speech”

    That’s a good thing. First Amendment absolutism is incompatible with left-libertarianism. See Reason contributor Noah Berlatsky’s powerful piece Is the First Amendment too broad? The case for regulating hate speech in America.

    #BringBackBerlatsky

    1. OBL, How do can ever go about elevating the 1A to SUPERPRECEDENT status?

      1. To my knowledge Roe v. Wade is the only Supreme Court decision that qualifies as a SUPER-PRECEDENT.

  4. So why did Harvard acquiesce? Is it possibly because a number of professors and administrators agree with the small number of students who made a lot of noise over this “opportunity” to advance their cause?

    1. Rhetorical questions, I presume.

      1. I suspect some really do want a world in which they rule according to their inclinations. Due process and a right to an attorney would just get in their way, so best to get that out of the way first and render judgement by acclaim.

    2. Here’s Lionel Shriver in an excellent interview where she touches on this subject, and she confirms the same thing Camille Paglia has discussed: There’s a new powerful mandarin class of administrators which have taken over everything. It’s not the professors (the faculty), it’s the administration that’s responsible for this– and “administrators are bureaucrats” and bureaucrats are powerfully cowardly.

      1. And HR departments in the private sector, predominantly females with BA degrees in BS. Definitely need to cull the ranks of bureaucrats in all walks of life.

        1. I mean, we do need to cull the ranks of bureaucrats, by why does it matter if they are female?

  5. “” They contended that Sullivan’s actions were “deeply trauma-inducing” for survivors of sexual violence and had the effect of making Winthrop House an unsafe place.””

    Are there really any deeply traumatized survivors of sexual violence at the Winthrop House?

    Standing might be a new legal term for them.

    1. I would say anyone at Winthrop House whining about privilege needs to take a long and hard look in the mirror. Or are mirrors now forbidden at Winthrop House?

      1. At Winthrop house we have a long tradition of admitting only America’s finest intersectional whiners.

    2. If his actions actually induced trauma in anyone (which I very much doubt), it’s not a sign that Sullivan did anything he shouldn’t have, but rather that they traumatized party needs some serious psychiatric intervention and is not in a fit state of mind to be attending a university.

      1. Sure.

        However, I think those who complain about people like Sullivan don’t actually know anyone who is truly traumatized. They represent no one with that condition.

        1. I think you are most likely correct.

          Either that or there is an epidemic of PTSD affecting students who can get into schools like Harvard. Which seems rather unlikely.

  6. They contended that Sullivan’s actions were “deeply trauma-inducing” for survivors of sexual violence and had the effect of making Winthrop House an unsafe place.

    Perhaps the ACLU’s actions will prove even more trauma-inducing for the activists.

  7. Uh, when Harvard can’t defend that principle, we’re roundly fucked.

  8. Oh man, you know the progressives are on a downward slope when they lose the ACLU.

      1. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU for 40 years and a member of the ACLU’s National Advisory Council, I enthusiastically endorse the position of the collective former leadership of the organization. The sad truth is that the current leaders of the ACLU have embraced a thoughtless and reflexive conception of the First Amendment that is incompatible with the overarching values of the Constitution and, indeed, of the ACLU itself.

        I say this as someone who once shared the view campaign finance regulations violated the First Amendment, but who has since come to a different set of conclusions. The reason for my shift over the years is not due to any change in my thinking about the fundamental principles of the First Amendment, but to a change in the realities of the political process over the past four decades.

  9. Is that a photo of Ron Sullivan or are you using Time magazine’s negro image enhancer?

    1. That’s David Cole.

  10. But in good college news, a jury awarded a bakery $11 million after the students and faculty of Oberlin college responded to a store keeper trying to prevent a student from stealing wine, and getting beat down for his trouble, by calling the bakery racist and recommending the town boycott it.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/06/10/oberlin-college-gibsons-bakery-libel-million-racist/?utm_term=.1684fcaf01e6

    1. Huh, the Washington Post built a Wall so I can’t read that.

      1. Never, ever, click a Washington Post link.
        Don’t you know anything about cyber security?
        That is the reason that you can preview the link by hovering, without having to click. To avoid WaPo pornography and the associated viruses.

        1. Use an incognito window and a pop-up blocker.

  11. I’ve previously expressed concern that the ACLU may be retreating from some of its previously ironclad commitments to defend free speech and due process when these principles come into conflict with the priorities of the new intersectional left, which is less thrilled about extending legal protections to people they dislike. But the organization’s defense of Sullivan is a powerful counterexample, and I couldn’t be happier that Cole and Rose decided to weigh in this way.

    Uh, Robby, did you forget who we’re talking about? A left wing academic/lawyer/activist. He’s not someone they dislike. He’s one of them.

    1. *lawyer*

      Their sacred class cannot be touched.

  12. “The ACLU is committed to fighting sexual assault, in the workplace, the home, on campus, and in the world at large.“

    This seems odd. Since when has the ACLU become a law-enforcement agency? And are they equally committed to fighting murder, aggravated assault, insurance fraud, theft, and other crimes?

  13. Alan Dershowitz not only defended Claus von Bulow, a male accused of attempting to murder a woman, but also wrote a book about the experience that was made into a major motion picture. If Charles Sullivan “scares” Harvard students for merely being part of Weinstein’s defense team, they must shit their pants in abject terror when Dershowitz shows up on campus.

    1. Didn’t Dershowitz also publicly declare he’d defend Osama Bin Laden if captured?

      1. That’s different. Bin Laden was a Muslim Arab, which made him an Oppressed Person, so representing him would not have triggered fear.

        Representing a heteronormative cisgendered white male who allegedly attempted to murder a woman, on the other hand…

  14. Someone needs to sit those Deli Cut Snow Flaykes down and remind them of a very critical incident in our early history.

    !793 or so, the folks in Boston began to heckle some of the obnixious and hated British Regular military men. After a while things got violent. “Assault weapons” were fired by the Regulars (the military, remember?) and some of the people of Boston fell dead, or wounded. Nine in total,if memory serves. Charges were laid by the locals, and several of the soldiers involved were arrested. Trial was in Boston, and was well attended. They needed legal representation, no barrister (attorney) would take the case, due to the very adverse public sentiment regarding the incident. Finally, John Adams took up their defense. He diligently researched, interviewed, questioned, studied, etc, presented the evidence fairly to the jury of Bostonians, and the jury acquitted.

    Many Colonials were angry at Mr. Adams for his temerity in defending them. His response silenced his detractors. Mr. Adams declared that if THOSE men could not get a fair trial and good legal representation, we might as well capitulate to the encroaching British rule. Later, after we kicked the Brits out of the Colonies and our “rules of operation” were being drafted, Mr. Adams was a VERY vocal and adamant proponent of the principle that EVERYONE must be able to get a fair, trial, before a jury of their PEERS, have legal representation, be able to question or examine those who testify against them, and present their own evidence, including testimony of any witnesses. Everything he provided for those accused soldiers has been prserved and guaranteed ALL OF US by way of our Bill of Rights.

    If these snowflakes don’t like things to be this way. I’d suggest they move to someplace like the Ukraine, Venezuela, China, or, if they’re not quite comfortable with tossing away ALL the rights we have here, perhaps they could try some not quite so harsh places like Indonesia, France, Germany, or even the UK.

    But they absolutely MAY NOT turn this place into those.Let THEM move to the place that suits their fairy tale dreams.

    1. My preference for the snowflakes is a ticket and boarding pass on Pinochet Air. But I’m in a bad mood today.

    2. Can we start of fund to organize more Flotillas to Gaza with the caveat that it is a one way trip?

  15. “I’ve previously expressed concern that the ACLU may be retreating from some of its previously ironclad commitments to defend free speech and due process when these principles come into conflict with the priorities of the new intersectional left, which is less thrilled about extending legal protections to people they dislike. But the organization’s defense of Sullivan is a powerful counterexample, and I couldn’t be happier that Cole and Rose decided to weigh in this way.”

    Intersectional hijinks are one thing, but attacking the ACLU’s bread and butter is another thing. They’ve represented (or helped) all sorts of dubious defendants in order to achieve their goals. Miranda of the Miranda warnings took a girl out into the Arizona desert and raped her.

    Boycotting lawyers for taking on guilty clients (or clients the media presumes are guilty) will hit the ACLU in the pocketbook.

    Of course the ACLU does happen to be right – without an adversary process how can you tell who’s actually guilty and even if guilty, what punishment they deserve and whether the prosecution cut corners? And how can you have a real adversary process if the defendant doesn’t have a lawyer?

    I’d have a different reaction if instead of representing private clients, a lawyer represented the government in trying to screw people over. Oppressive governments don’t stand in need of legal representation in the same way as criminal defendants, and shunning may be more justifiable.

    1. “”without an adversary process how can you tell who’s actually guilty and even if guilty, what punishment they deserve and whether the prosecution cut corners?”‘

      For some in the ruling class it’s a feature not a bug.

  16. At the same time, Weinstein, like every person accused of a crime, is presumed innocent in his criminal case unless he pleads or is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In related news, the Supreme Court does not want to reconsider plight of the Gitmo prisoners. Wait a second … I see what Harvard is doing.

  17. When it’s a *lawyer* who loses his job, all of a sudden the ACLU rediscovers the first amendment.

    Who, whom.

    That’s all this case is.

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