The National Lawyers Guild is a leftist group with chapters at numerous law schools.

The City University of New York (CUNY) Law School Chapter of NLG led the protests against and disruption of the lecture by Prof. Josh Blackman, as we documented in “F*ck the law” – CUNY Law students attempt shout-down of conservative law prof.

One of the lowlights of the disruption was a student shouting at Prof. Blackman “Fuck the Law”. Blackman wrote:

A student shouted out “Fuck the law.” This comment stunned me. I replied, “Fuck the law? That’s a very odd thing. You are all in law school. And it is a bizarre thing to say fuck the law when you are in law school.” They all started to yell and shout over me.

The disruption created a lot of negative publicity for CUNY Law, but its Dean defended the disruption:

Via email on Sunday, Mary Lu Bilek, dean of the law school, said that the protest was reasonable because the disruptions ended relatively early in the time frame of the appearance.

“For the first eight minutes of the 70-minute event, the protesting students voiced their disagreements. The speaker engaged with them. The protesting students then filed out of the room, and the event proceeded to its conclusion without incident,” Bilek said.

“This non-violent, limited protest was a reasonable exercise of protected free speech, and it did not violate any university policy,” she added. “CUNY Law students are encouraged to develop their own perspectives on the law in order to be prepared to confront our most difficult legal and social issues as lawyers promoting the values of fairness, justice, and equality.”

That defense of the disruption of a speech has been met with much ridicule, including this from George Mason Law Professor David Bernstein, CUNY Law Needs to Fire its Dean:

Some free-speech provocateurs should consider disrupting the first eight minutes of each of CUNY law school’s classes this week, including by forcing the professor to run a gauntlet of protesters threatening to block entry into their classrooms. After all, we now know that the law school’s official position is that eight minutes of disruption is “a reasonable exercise of free speech.” Meanwhile, Dean Bilek should be fired, and the Department of Education should investigate whether CUNY, a public institution, is violating the First Amendment rights of its guest speakers and students by giving disrupting students carte blanche, at least for eight minutes. The joke is that Dean Bilek is an ABA site visit team member, helping determine whether other law schools should get or keep the necessary accreditation, something she clearly is not competent to do.

Note that I’m not advocating any particular punishment of the students. But surely it can’t be consistent with free speech and university policy to disrupt a speaker. Indeed, that was the law school’s position before the talk. As [Inside Higher Ed] reports: “The law school sent a campuswide email stating that Blackman had a right to speak, and that protests were welcome, but not if they disrupted his appearance. At the beginning of his lecture, a law school official came to the event, repeated that message and then left.”

CUNY NLG is standing by the students who chanted “Fuck the Law.” Not just standing by them, but adopting the slogan as that of CUNY NLG, in a statement tweeted today:

Here’s the text of the Statement via the Google Doc shared by CUNY NLG on Facebook:

What We Mean When We Say “Fuck the Law”
A Statement from CUNY Law’s National Lawyers Guild Chapter

On March 29th, members of CUNY School of Law’s National Lawyers Guild chapter, along with other students, gathered to protest a speaking event hosted by CUNY Law’s chapter of Federalist Society. The Federalist Society invited law professor Josh Blackman to speak on “Free Speech on Campus,” and failed to advertise or notify the community until three days before the event. We understand the Federalist Society’s – and other conservative and alt-right organizations’ – discourse regarding the alleged “assault” on free speech to be a front for the promotion of oppressive ideologies. Much of the dissent that conservative media complains about, including our demonstration, is protected free speech. And as much as he may deny such to be true, we believe that Josh Blackman chose CUNY Law because of its reputation as a radical campus and the likelihood of student dissent.

On March 29th, we entered the room where Blackman was speaking, held signs, and expressed our opposition to his hateful views regarding the recission of DACA, President Trump’s Muslim Ban, and free speech as a necessary protection against claims of hate speech (which Blackman denies exists). We did not prevent Blackman from speaking. After our demonstration, he spoke for 90 minutes. Our presence was important because CUNY Law’s “support” of this event – which went far beyond simply granting Blackman a platform – was unsettling and disappointing.

Of course, as CUNY Law is a public school, we understood that they couldn’t cancel the event. However, CUNY Law promotes itself as as a public-interest law school, committed to diversity, and safe for immigrant communities. Seemingly, this event ran afoul of everything that CUNY purports to stand for. Blackman, and conservatives who espouse similar views, write about the law as though it is inherently neutral. Conversely, Dean Mary Lu Bilek boasts that CUNY Law was founded to be a school “just for people who not only practice the law, but question the law.”

In 1991, when the United States waged war against Iraq, CUNY Law students hung the flag of Iraq and an upside down American flag outside the school in protest. Elected officials directly denounced the display, demanding that administration take the flags down. Pro-military demonstrations took place on the steps of the law school. The late Haywood Burns, the law school’s beloved dean at the time, supported the demonstration. He stood by the students, protecting their right to engage in First Amendment speech opposing military occupation of Iraq, by refusing to take down the flags. In 2018, after learning that Blackman would be visiting CUNY’s campus, Dean Bilek chose not to release a statement admonishing Blackman’s hateful views. She failed to provide a safe space for student`s affected by those views. Instead, Dean Bilek sent CUNY’s policy on “Expression on Campus” without context, threatening protesters with disciplinary action.

In their reports on the demonstration, conservative media has become focused on the words of one protester: “Fuck the law.” Blackman and conservatives alike find it paradoxical that students studying the law could hold such a belief. So, what do we mean when we say “fuck the law”? We mean that law was written to uphold white supremacy, and limit the freedom of communities of color. We mean that the law is not neutral. As it is written, the law oppresses, dehumanizes, displaces, deports, and incarcerates our communities and loved ones. When we say “fuck the law,” we mean that under the the current political administration, we will not engage in a “civil debate” about the validity of someone’s existence. When we say “fuck the law,” we mean fuck the law.

Haywood Burns once described CUNY Law as “a new kind of institution of legal education built on the pursuit of social justice through law.” The event which took place on March 29th, and the presence of the Federalist Society on campus is a sign that CUNY Law has become divorced from this original purpose of bringing students to the legal profession who recognize that the law is oppressive. As such, we welcome the media’s current interest in our institution, and we urge those who are working towards social justice through legal education to join us in holding Dean Bilek and the rest of CUNY Law’s administration accountable to the school’s mission and history.

We stand by our actions at the Federalist Society’s event. As conservative media continues to grasp at straws and characterize our protected speech as anything but, we as a student organization will continue to fight for true justice and safer spaces for marginalized communities. We are calling upon CUNY School of Law to join us in this fight.

I’d love to be able to say this is a parody statement, but alas, it appear to be real.

[Featured Image via CUNY NLG Facebook]


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