published : 2023-08-21

American Bar Association Considers Regulating Disruptive Behavior Hindering Free Speech in US Law Schools

Free speech disruptions at notable institutions like Yale and Stanford prompt proposed standard requiring stringent policies to promote the free expression of ideas.

A candid shot of Ilya Shapiro, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, during a discussion on free speech in law schools.

Ilya Shapiro, Manhattan Institute senior fellow, underlines the inherent importance of free speech norms, professional responsibility, and civil discourse, particularly for law students.

Emerging from the American Bar Association (ABA) is a proposal delineating a need to countermand 'disruptive conduct that hinders free expression,' according to a memo expounded by the organization's legal education arm last Thursday.

The memo accentuates the necessity of 'free and robust inquiry, exposition, and the exchange of ideas' for both 'the development of the law and effective legal education.'

Consequently, ABA's Proposed Standard 208 urges law schools to 'adopt, publish, and adhere to written policies that encourage and support the free expression of ideas.' Despite the potential controversy or unpopularity of such ideas, faculties, students, and staff have the right to communicate their sentiments 'through robust debate, demonstrations, or protests.'

A over-the-shoulder shot of a law student engrossed in a heavy book in a quiet university library, taken with a Nikon D850.

Disruptive conduct, however, that potentially hampers open expression or law school activities, is strictly prohibited.

Reigning concerns over legislative endeavors to crack down on critical race theory instruction, or disruptive outbursts deemed to hamper controversial guest speakers' free speech on college campuses, fuel ABA's proposals.

Daniel Thies, a council member, considers both these trends as an 'urgent threat to the training of lawyers.'

Earlier this year, an incident involving Tirien Steinbach, Stanford associate dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who shut down U.S. Circuit Court Judge Kyle Duncan (a Trump-appointee) during a presentation at the school's law school, apparently incited ABA's proposal.

A riveting image of Bill Adams delivering his statement on the Academic Freedom Standard, captured with a Sony Alpha a7 III.

Other incidents contributing to escalating concerns over free speech disruptions include Yale law students' attempts to shut down a bipartisan panel on civil liberties and unruly protests against women's sports activist Riley Gaines at San Francisco State University.

Bill Adams, ABA's managing director for accreditation and legal education, spoke on the matter, underscoring that 'the Academic Freedom Standard was identified as one that needed to be reviewed and revised' well before these public speaker incidents sprung up.

Adams reiterated that the 'development of the law and effective legal education require free and robust inquiry, exposition, and the exchange of ideas.'