The Volokh Conspiracy

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Ilya Shapiro Is Shouted Down At U.C. Hastings


In 2018, I was shouted down at the CUNY Law School in New York. I've written at some length about the experience, including a law review article in the First Amendment Law Review. Still, nearly four years later, the experience remains surreal. It is difficult to convey what it feels like when dozens of students are screaming and shouting at you in the most vicious way. In modern discourse, we often speak of the "harm" and "violence" cause by tweets and the like. But I experienced, first hand, personal attacks. Perhaps the one redeeming aspect of the CUNY incident was that I was able to defuse the protest, engage the students in conversation, and ultimately begin a reasoned discussion–albeit not on the topic I intended to speak about.

My good friend and colleague Ilya Shapiro was not so fortunate. On Tuesday, he was slated to speak at the U.C. Hastings Law School about the Supreme Court confirmation process. Ilya has given this talk umpteen times across the country. But this lecture would be different, in light of his ongoing situation at Georgetown. Ilya was shouted down for nearly an hour straight. The students livestreamed the protest on Instagram.

Every time Ilya opened his mouth, dozens students screamed at him and banged the table. He could not get a word out. There was also an element of physicality. Students stood inches away from Ilya, and got in his face. Throughout the process, Ilya stood stoically.

Morris Ratner, the academic dean, warned the students that their disruption violated the code of conduct. But he then took no steps to actually enforce the code, and ensure that Ilya could speak. And students yelled at him with profanity.

Professor Rory Little, who was invited to comment on Ilya's talk, said on camera that he supported the protest. And, when the camera panned to Little around 44:00, he was banging the table along with a chant.

The protestors also hurled bizarrely personal attacks at Ilya. One student said, "When did you start balding? Are you sad that you're balding." I hate to break it to the student, but we all go bald.

Around the 22:00 minute mark, a student shouted out, "Freedom of speech, baby." The context was not clear, but my sense was that she thought the student protest was itself an exercise of the freedom of speech. No. The classroom is not a public forum. Student organizations are permitted to reserve that space for their preferred speakers, who have priority. (Eugene Volokh and Howard Wasserman explain the doctrine). And this disruption was not brief. It lasted the entire duration of Ilya's slotted time. (At my CUNY protest, the now-self-cancelled Dean insisted that my speech was protected because the protest only lasted eight minutes).

Will anything happen to the students? Probably not. The administrators and professors are either deathly afraid of the students, or alternatively, sympathetic to the students. What I do know is that the FedSoc chapter on campus will find it difficult to hold future debates. Throughout the event, the the protestors repeatedly asked the two FedSoc officers to justify their decision to invite Shapiro. The officers were booed and ridiculed. Around the 51:00 mark, a student said "don't let it happen again, because it will be shut down too."

Perhaps the one silver lining of this event is that we can revisit CLS v. Martinez, which arose at U.C. Hastings. So much for an "all-comers" policy. It is clear now that student organizations on campus will be protested and shut down if they invite unpopular speakers. It would be a good test case if a conservative member tried to join the various affinity groups. I strongly that dispute would come out differently with the current Court. And for that victory, we have the students at Hastings to thank.