On January 25, 2021, Stanford Law student Nicholas Wallace sent a satirical flyer over email promoting an event: "“The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.” As Mark Joseph Stern reported at Slate, the flyer was "ostensibly sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society."
It advertised the participation of two politicians who tried to overturn the 2020 election, Missouri Sen. Joshua Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government,” the flyer read, adding that insurrection “can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”
A couple of months later, an officer of the Stanford Federalist Society lodged a complaint against Wallace with the University's Office of Community Standards, citing defamation of the Society, its officers, Hawley, and Paxton. On May 22, the complainant told the Office he wanted the investigation to proceed. Wallace wasn't notified until May 27, the last day of classes, and his graduation was put on hold pending the investigation.
Whether from public outrage,legal threats, or its own sober review of the matter, the University ended its investigation on June 2, saying Wallace's flyer was protected speech. Wallace will graduate on schedule. Stanford still faces criticism for its delayed handling of a frivolous complaint. Such criticism may or may not be fair; perhaps the Office is understaffed and swamped with complaints. Bureaucracies are slow.
Social media, however, lodged a broader criticism against the Federalist Society itself. It's supposedly a group of conservatives and libertarians who seek to reform the legal order. As it claims to promote "open debate," why hasn't it condemned its Stanford chapter for pursuing this complaint? The implication is "free speech for me, but not for thee."
I don't know if that criticism is fair. The Federalist Society has 65,000 members in legal fields and 10,00 who are law students, with chapters in more than 200 law schools. Furthermore:
The Federalist Society does not "lobby for legislation, take policy positions, or sponsor or endorse nominees and candidates for public service."
"Membership is open to anyone who wishes to join the Society."
The Society operates like a network to elevate members to federal judgeships and jobs in Republican administrations. There are no ideological litmus tests, although there is a pattern of conservative results. It has attracted the kind of people that invited Wallace's satire in the first place.
But is the Society's President supposed to babysit its members, such as the one who lodged the snitty complaint against Wallace?
For all of the Federalist Society's real and alleged faults, I doubt the behavior of this anonymous Stanford complainant (i.e., complainer, whiner) should reflect poorly on the organization. Pettiness and fragile egos are seen in all organizations, both large and small.
An uncharacteristic move against free speech, by one person in a 75,000+ member organization, doesn't make them all hypocrites.
If anything, maybe this case should provoke self-examination. This anonymous student tried to ruin Wallace's career because he was offended by Wallace's satire. Think about that when you consider reporting offensive online behavior to social media outlets. Or when you try to exact revenge on someone you believe treated you unfairly. Or even when you post a negative review of a business online. There's someone on the other end who may be hurt in ways you don't realize.
The complainant in this fiasco should have just let it go and moved on.
It'd be a happier world if we all did the same when we are hurt or offended.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, subscribe. Your support through Paypal helps keep him going. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution.