Law Schools

Exchange at Stanford Law event with Federalist Society wasn’t productive, associate dean says

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Stanford Law School in November 2012. Photo by King of Hearts, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Stanford Law School administrator shown at a campus event with the Federalist Society in which audience members heckled a federal appellate judge told her side of the story Thursday in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal.

It follows a March 17 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal written by the guest speaker, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans. A video, linked in Duncan’s story, shows members of the audience shouting at him, as well as the remarks of Tirien Steinbach, the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at Stanford Law.

“Whenever and wherever we can, we must de-escalate the divisive discourse to have thoughtful conversations and find common ground. Free speech, academic freedom and work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion must coexist in a diverse, democratic society,” Steinbach wrote in her piece, which was published March 23.

She previously ws the executive director of the East Bay Community Law Center.

Additionally, Steinbach wrote that the “heated exchange” was not helpful or productive. She claimed that her intention was to “deploy the de-escalation techniques in which I have been trained, which include getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people.”

Steinbach is currently on leave from the law school, according to a March 22 letter written by Jenny Martinez, the law school’s dean. Following the March 9 incident with the Federalist Society, Stanford Law students are now required to attend a half-day education session on free speech, Martinez wrote.

In his opinion piece, Duncan wrote that he asked for an administrator because the heckling would not stop. The video shows Steinbach, who is Black, telling him that she is an associate dean.

“You just asked for an administrator, and I am here,” she said.

She is also shown addressing the audience. Among her remarks, Steinbach said Duncan’s work as a lawyer and a judge “land as absolute disenfranchisement” of the rights of people in the Stanford Law community. Additionally, she said, for many people at the event, Duncan’s work caused harm.

“If you do choose to stay here,” she said, “I do think we should give space to hear what Judge Duncan has to say, and I hope that also you will take the question and answer and comments section to say what you need to say and ask the questions you need to ask. I’m really grateful to be in this institution. I look out and I don’t ask, ‘What is going on here?’ I look out and I say, ‘I’m glad this is going on here.’”

After Steinbach went back to her seat and many audience members walked out, another person asked the group to turn “down the heckling slightly, so he can get to our questions, which we so very much want to hear a response.”

While in private practice, Duncan’s clients included a Virginia school board that prohibited a transgender student from using school bathrooms that matched his gender identity.

As a 5th Circuit judge, Duncan wrote for the majority in United States v. Varner, a 2020 opinion involving a federal inmate who identified as transgender and asked for a name change, as well as being addressed with female pronouns.

In the majority finding, which denied the motion, Duncan wrote that Varner’s request didn’t fall into the recognized categories of post-conviction motions. Additionally, he wrote that there was no authority supporting the proposition that the appeals court may require litigants, judges, court personnel or others to use pronouns matching gender identities.

See also: “After ‘disruptive heckling,’ Stanford Law requires free speech session, notes associate dean’s leave” “Stanford apologizes after conservative federal appeals judge is heckled during Federalist Society talk”

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