Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brown University

Reimagining Free Speech at Brown University

On October 29, as you may have heard, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was shouted down and prevented from speaking at Brown University. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has written extensively on the event and the ensuing controversy. I wish to address the three arguments, all of them weak, that supporters of the protest have been making.

1. Shouting down a speaker is protected by the First Amendment. One Brown student and protest organizer crowed that the demonstration was “a powerful demonstration of free speech.” We have heard this argument before. In 2010, when former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren came to speak at UC-Irvine, audience members attempted to shout Oren down. Eleven of them were arrested. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Irvine’s School of Law and the Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law responded, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, to the claim that the protester’s rights had been violated. His remarks are worth quoting at length:

Freedom of speech, on campuses and elsewhere, is rendered meaningless if speakers can be shouted down by those who disagree. The law is well established that the government can act to prevent a heckler’s veto—prevent the reaction of the audience from silencing the speaker. There is simply no 1st Amendment right to go into an auditorium and prevent a speaker from being heard, no matter who the speaker is or how strongly one disagrees with his or her message.

Chemerinsky, author of the Conservative Assault on the Constitution, has impeccable liberal credentials. He is also a critic of New York’s stop-and-frisk policing policy, opposition to which motivated the protesters. Nonetheless, he tells us that from a First Amendment perspective the “heckler’s veto” is “an easy case.”

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On October 29, as you may have heard, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was shouted down and prevented from speaking at Brown University. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has written extensively on the event and the ensuing controversy. I wish to address the three arguments, all of them weak, that supporters of the protest have been making.

1. Shouting down a speaker is protected by the First Amendment. One Brown student and protest organizer crowed that the demonstration was “a powerful demonstration of free speech.” We have heard this argument before. In 2010, when former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren came to speak at UC-Irvine, audience members attempted to shout Oren down. Eleven of them were arrested. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Irvine’s School of Law and the Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law responded, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, to the claim that the protester’s rights had been violated. His remarks are worth quoting at length:

Freedom of speech, on campuses and elsewhere, is rendered meaningless if speakers can be shouted down by those who disagree. The law is well established that the government can act to prevent a heckler’s veto—prevent the reaction of the audience from silencing the speaker. There is simply no 1st Amendment right to go into an auditorium and prevent a speaker from being heard, no matter who the speaker is or how strongly one disagrees with his or her message.

Chemerinsky, author of the Conservative Assault on the Constitution, has impeccable liberal credentials. He is also a critic of New York’s stop-and-frisk policing policy, opposition to which motivated the protesters. Nonetheless, he tells us that from a First Amendment perspective the “heckler’s veto” is “an easy case.”

2. Raymond Kelly is so powerful that it is impossible to have an exchange with him. Naoko Shibusawa, a professor of history at Brown, applauds the protesters, observing that “‘Misbehavior’ is a tactic of the disempowered toward disrupting the status quo.” A Brown University senior makes a similar argument in the Guardian: “protest is discourse on the terms of the oppressed, and it takes a ‘disruption’ for marginalized communities to have their voices heard.”

Set aside that opponents of stop and frisk are not marginalized at Brown, where only 8 percent of students polled by the Brown Daily Herald support the tactic. More importantly, Bill de Blasio, who campaigned against stop and frisk, was just elected mayor of New York in a landslide, and Kelly is probably on his way out. De Blasio and his supporters evidently do not agree that, in the words of the same Brown senior, “the status quo does not abide nor will it even acknowledge critical analysis.”

3. It was an offense to blacks and Hispanics to invite Kelly, and no one who has not been stopped and frisked has a right to an opinion about it. As one student commented: “Ray Kelly is a terrorist, and he’s terrorizing our communities. Until you feel terrorism in your life, I don’t think you have the right to speak on this subject.” Marion Orr, a professor of political science and director of the center responsible for bringing Kelly to campus, evidently accepted at least part of that student’s premise when he apologized: “I sincerely apologize to my students,” he said. “Especially to my black students and Latino brothers and sisters — it wasn’t my intention to hurt you, and it hurts me to hear that my decision caused so much pain.”

Yet even after de Blasio’s campaign, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 24 percent of black likely voters and 36 percent of Hispanic likely voters supported stop and frisk. In an August 2012 Quinippiac poll, a majority of Hispanic voters approved of stop and frisk, and while the great majority of black voters opposed it, a majority also approved of Kelly’s job performance. Whether stop and frisk is good policy or not, these data suggest that it is absurd to apologize to blacks and Latinos for the mere act of inviting Ray Kelly to campus. 

The good news is that these arguments are not accepted widely, even at Brown, where, according to the Brown Daily Herald poll, 73 percent of students disagree with the protesters’ decision to shout Ray Kelly down. Brown President Christina Paxson will form a committee to investigate the incident. In a letter to the Brown University community, President Paxson quotes the Code of Student Conduct, according to which “protest becomes unacceptable when it obstructs the basic exchange of ideas. “These standards of conduct,” she adds, “will be upheld and enforced.” Let’s hope so.

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The White House Grumpy Act

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

Never have we seen such a put-upon, grouchy White House. Rahm Emanuel has to deal with Obama — who doesn’t seem to understand that Rahm is smarter than everyone else. Obama is miffed at everyone from Fox to the Democrats who are interested in grubby matters, such as their own re-election. And now David Axelrod lumbers forward to spin his tale of woe. Now — I know this is shocking but he thinks it’s all a “communication problem.”

The Gray Lady hosts the grievance session:

The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did,” said James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University. “They essentially took the president’s great strength as a messenger and failed to use it smartly.” Mr. Axelrod said he accepts some blame for what he called “communication failures,” though he acknowledges bafflement that the administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy in a crisis, overhaul health care and prosecute two wars have been so routinely framed by opponents as the handiwork of a big-government, soft-on-terrorism, politics-of-the-past ideologue.

Really, how in the world could the American people look at cap-and-trade, the spend-a-thon, and ObamaCare, and get the idea that Obama is interested in expanding the reach of the federal government? Dupes and fools, they must be. And as for Washington — the whole town is just insufferable:

In an interview in his office, Mr. Axelrod was often defiant, saying he did not give a “flying” expletive “about what the peanut gallery thinks” and did not live for the approval “of the political community.” He denounced the “rampant lack of responsibility” of people in Washington who refuse to solve problems, and cited the difficulty of trying to communicate through what he calls “the dirty filter” of a city suffused with the “every day is Election Day sort of mentality.”

Here’s the thing: leave if you don’t like it or can’t convince people of what a swell job you’re doing. There is no mandatory draft for the White House. In fact, some people consider it an honor and privilege to serve there. And  it dpes sound as though the excuses are mounting for an exit. “Mr. Axelrod’s friends worry about the toll of his job — citing his diet (cold-cut-enriched), his weight (20 pounds heavier than at the start of the presidential campaign), sleep deprivation (five fitful hours a night), separation from family (most back home in Chicago) and the fact that at 55, he is considerably older than many of the wunderkind workaholics of the West Wing. He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.” Oh, my — the stress! The hours!

A friend of Axelrod confides, “I think he’s getting close to a burnout kind of thing.” Yes, failure is stressful. But whining is tiresome. If Axelrod and the rest can’t figure out how to make this all work, maybe the country would be better served by their return to the cesspool of Illinois politics. I hear Tony Rezko’s banker needs some help with his Senate campaign.

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Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

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