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USC law professor Michael Simkovic’s absurd attack on me for defending campus free speech

USC law professor Michael Simkovic’s absurd attack on me for defending campus free speech

Implies my free speech lecture at Vassar was intended to “defend racism,” and alleges I’m part of a “well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities”

Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports website, run by U. Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, isn’t a high traffic site, but it does have a following among people interested in the law professor profession.

So it is not surprising that some Legal Insurrection readers also read Leiter’s website. Several of those readers contacted me today about a guest column by USC Professor of Law and Accounting Michael Simkovic about me and other conservative law professors. I don’t know who Simkovic is and never heard of him before.

The column wasn’t only about me. In fact, reading the column, I get the sense I was mere collateral damage, the main focus was on rising conservative star law professor Josh Blackman. Blackman has been in the news lately after his lecture on free speech at CUNY Law School was disrupted by students shouting, among other things, “fuck the law.” There has been widespread condemnation of the disruption and the CUNY Dean’s reaction.

The title of Simkovic’s column at Leiter’s website was A well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities is exploiting students and manipulating the public.

George Mason Law Professor David Bernstein addresses at Volokh Conspiracy the absurdity of Simkovic’s thesis that conservatives bait hostile liberals into shutting down speech as part of some nefarious master plan:

The whole piece is like this, full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it.

Prof. Bernstein also rebuts the bevy of charges lodged by Simkovic against Prof. Blackman, and focuses on what has made Prof. Blackman a target, his rising stardom in the Federalist Society world:

“Josh is, I believe, the most prolific speaker for the Federalist Society. He speaks at many schools every year. By Federalist Society rules, the students at each chapter have to invite him, he can’t invite himself. In short, the idea that he somehow chose CUNY to provoke a reaction is ridiculous, and the notion that presenting an anodyne talk on free speech, which Josh had presented at several other law schools without incident, should provoke any sensible, mature person is ridiculous.”

In a companion post at Instapundit, Prof. Bernstein is more blunt about the absurdity of Simkovic’s conspiracy theory:

I’M EMBARRASSED FOR THE AUTHOR: USC lawprof Michael Simkovic … The whole piece is … full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it. Read it and weep.

(added) Attorney Scott Greenfield has an even more scathing response to Simkovic, Michael Simkovic’s Grand Delusion.

While Prof. Blackman clearly was the main target, and other conservative professors were included, Simkovic opened the column with an attack on me and my lecture at Vassar College last October.

While my speech at Vassar wasn’t disrupted, there was campus hysteria whipped up by student and faculty activists, and attempts to cancel the lecture, based on complete fabrications and false accusations that I was a white supremacist intent on bringing white nationalists to campus. I documented the factual fabrications behind these accusations both at Legal Insurrection and also at U.S.A. Today, My pro-free speech views made me the target of a smear campaign at Vassar College.

The attacks on me at Vassar received considerable attention, including at Hot Air and Commentary, among others, and an appearance on the Mark Levin and Lars Larson national radio shows, and NRA TV.

The lecture ended up being hugely successful, with almost 300 students filling the venue and spilling into the hallways to listen to me discuss the basic legal background on free speech, and why the values of free speech should be embraced even on private campuses like Vassar. You can watch my 45-minute lecture and 1.5 hour Question and Answer, and judge for yourself.

The campus reaction after my appearance was quite different than the hysteria that preceded the event. One student wrote in the campus newspaper of the “misrepresentation of facts” regarding me that preceded my appearance.

Another student wrote in a student publication devoted to political discourse:

“It’s time to acknowledge that H2A and the VSA lied to us.”

[H2A was the student activist group against my appearance, and VSA is the Vassar Student Association which wanted my lecture cancelled.]

Another student emailed me directly:

I attended your event at Vassar last month and I just wanted to say thank you the insightful free speech talk that you gave. This message is a little late, but these thoughts have been mulling around in my head for a while, so I thought that I should reach out you. When I first heard that you were going to give a talk on campus, I was totally swept up in the rumors that you were a white nationalist, xenophobic, racist man with ties to the alt-right (as many of my friends were – literally, students with official administrative positions mass spread these rumors, and the administration did nothing to denounce them). I was surprised to find a reasonable, nonpartisan argument about the importance of free speech. You started an important discussion on campus and you’ve motivated a change within myself.

An alumnus published a lengthy letter to Vassar’s President in the student newspaper decrying the treatment of me:

To the eternal shame of Vassar, it appears that not a single member of the Vassar faculty or administration publicly supported Professor Jacobson or his free speech message. It also appears that many, like you, actively supported H2A.

In their silence and actions, the faculty and administration at Vassar have clearly learned a lesson from Nicholas and Erika Christakis at Yale University. This couple dared to speak truth to power, and it cost them their careers.

You owe Professor Jacobson a public apology, and you owe the Vassar community a statement thoroughly repudiating H2A and its ideas.

Anyone who took the time to understand what happened to me at Vassar, and who was interested in the truth, would not still try to smear me as a white supremacist or suggest that I was to blame for the hysteria that preceded my appearance. Unfortunately, Simkovic in his column at Leiter Law School Reports tried to do just that.

Here is the entirety of the portion of Simkovic’s column addressing me:

After a violent attack on civil rights protestors that left three dead and more than a dozen injured at the University of Virginia, students and administrators at Vassar became concerned when they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism.  Jacobson’s libertarian hosts advertised his lecture as “‘Hate Speech’ is Free Speech, Even After Charlottesville.”  Jacobson’s previous racially charged comments and dubious assertions earned Jacobson the admiration of White-nationalist websites such as V-Dare (see also here), the John Birch Society’s New American, and Breitbart news.

But Jacobson’s much-hyped lecture turned out to be a superficial and innocuous discussion of free speech, at the level of a high school civics class.  Jacobson’s prosaic lecture was not news worthy.  Instead, the press focused on student and university officials’ purported over-reactions to a talk about “free speech.”

Let’s take this piece by piece:

“… students and administrators at Vassar became concerned when they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism.”

The link is to a Cornell Sun article about the controversy over the title of my lecture, for which the students who invited me took full responsibility.  Nowhere in the Cornell Sun article does it say I was “coming to defend racism” or similar language.  I addressed the inaccuracies in the Cornell Sun article about the confusion over the title in a response, which Simkovic does not link. Simkovic’s phrasing (“they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism”) suggests that that was indeed the purpose of the speech. That not only was not true, it is a pernicious method of attack on those of us who defend free speech — that supporting someone’s right to speak is the equivalent of agreeing with the content of the speech. I would have expected a law professor not to feed into that destructive narrative.


“Jacobson’s previous racially charged comments…”

That hyperlink goes to my post It’s time for Elizabeth Warren to apologize for her Native American deception. In what possible way could calling on Elizabeth Warren to apologize to Native Americans be deemed “racially charged”? Please read that post which Simkovic uses as proof I have made “racially charged” comments. No reasonable person interested in the truth could come to that conclusion or try to use that post to smear me as racist.


“and dubious assertions”

That clause links to the controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s practice of law without a law license in Massachusetts, using her Harvard Law School address as her regular office address. I extensively researched the matter in 2012, and laid out the evidence. The article linked by Simkovic is centered on a statement by the General Counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers that Warren did not need to be licensed. But in a follow up post not linked by Simkovic, I showed how the General Counsel admitted he didn’t know the facts of Warren’s practice, was speaking purely in a private capacity, did not purport to exonerate her, and didn’t mean to suggest that law professors don’t need to be licensed. Ultimately I was vindicated by a private ethics watchdog, although no action was taken against Warren:

Prof Jacobson, on his blog Legal Insurrection, is in line for an Ethics Hero award with his tenacity regarding Elizabeth Warren’s dubious qualifications to engage in the practice of law in  Massachusetts. The overwhelming reaction by his colleagues in legal academia, and mine in the legal ethics community, has been to airily dismiss his arguments as trivial, far-fetched and thinly disguised political warfare, since Jacobson is an unapologetic conservative blogger (and a distinguished one.) Meanwhile, the mainstream media has, I think it is fair to say, completely ignored the story….

The rude brush off Prof. Jacobson is getting in this wagon-circling exercise is wrong in every way, and does injustice to every person and institution involved, including the Massachusetts legal establishment, the legal profession, ethical lawyers (which, believe it or not, the vast majority of them are), Senator Brown, the U.S. Senate, Massachusetts voters, and the American public….

Yet the complexity of this issue was presented as me making a “dubious” assertion right after I was wrongly smeared as having made “racially charged comments.”


“earned Jacobson the admiration of White-nationalist websites such as V-Dare (see also here), the John Birch Society’s New American, and Breitbart news.”

I have been quoted and linked hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times, since starting Legal Insurrection in 2008. That’s not to mention my dozens of professional securities law-related quotations and links. From those thousands of quotes and links, Simkovic found a very small number from websites he calls white nationalist. It must have taken a lot of work to dig those out.

I don’t control who quotes or links to me. But if you look at the links Simkovic found, they are on Elizabeth Warren’s false claim to be Native American (V-Dare), the Oberlin College 2013 racism hoax (V-Dare)[my original post here], and Obamacare intensifying the doctor shortage (John Birch New American). None of those topics on which I am linked contain any white nationalist topics written by me. The Breitbart link is to a search of Breitbart’s website for all mentions of me; please scroll through that link, none of the topics for which I was linked were white nationalist, most had to do with Elizabeth Warren and other routine political matters.

Does finding a tiny number of links to me unrelated to any alleged white nationalist writings by me sound like the tactic of someone interested in a fair discussion? I don’t think so.


“But Jacobson’s much-hyped lecture turned out to be a superficial and innocuous discussion of free speech, at the level of a high school civics class.  Jacobson’s prosaic lecture was not news worthy.  Instead, the press focused on student and university officials’ purported over-reactions to a talk about “free speech.””

Well, this is mostly true, though snide. This was a basic 45-minute lecture on free speech for a non-legal audience. It was well received by that audience as the videos show. We shouldn’t belittle the value in bringing discussions of the law to non-lawyers, particularly on campuses.

So where does this leave us?

Professor Michael Simkovic tried to smear me as a racist white nationalist on a website frequented by people in my profession. Yet the proof he offered was misleading at best, out of context, and based on shoddy research. I don’t know why he felt the need to do this.

Michael Simkovic appears to have set out to denigrate me. In the end, I think he only denigrated himself.

[Featured Image: CBS LA Video]


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“well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities”

I’m not sure which part is more ridiculous … “well-organized campaign” or “take over universities”

    Arminius in reply to Neo. | May 5, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    The projection is bigly with this one.

    This the 21st century version of the vast right wing conspiracy.

    If anybody knows of the “well organized” organization that wants to put this twit out of a job give me their email address so I can help.

“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.” That by FDR.

One can notice the uptick in rather interesting comments here in the last months … and after such shout outs from the likes of Limbaugh. The battle has obviously been joined.

My only reminder here is from Mother Teresa… “when you become famous you gain false friends and true enemies.”

    Massinsanity in reply to alaskabob. | May 1, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    I had never seen that quote from Mother Teresa so I decided to look it up. I believe she uses “successful” rather than “famous” but its close enough. Here is the full quote which I think is beautiful:

    “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives: Be kind anyway. If you are successful you will win some false friends and true enemies: Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank people will try to cheat you: Be honest anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight: Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous of you: Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten by tomorrow: Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough: Give your best anyway.”

I saw a link to this article earlier today. Having read the entire article my honest reaction to the whole thing was it was nothing more than the rantings of a small petty man who has let his jealousy over the success of others drive him to the boundaries of sanity and reason.

There is also the fact that I have seem better writing by high school sophomores, though after reading Mr. SimKovics writing I am fairly certain that those sophomores were much more mature than Mr. Simikovic.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Gremlin1974. | April 30, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    seem = seen in first sentence of second paragraph.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Gremlin1974. | May 1, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    I have always called this as the “Little Person Syndrome”, and there is nothing that makes them madder than being irrelevant.

      Latus Dextro in reply to JusticeDelivered. | May 3, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      There’s a wonderful and apt word to describe such people … ‘cockalorum’.
      It goes hand in hand with ‘pecksniffian’, a reliable and notable characteristic of the Left, often observed in conjunction with ‘projection’, ‘confirmation bias’ and ‘deflection’.

G. de La Hoya | April 30, 2018 at 9:54 pm

“at the level of a high school civics class”

I imagine Simkovic to be one that speaks “down” to an audience and over their heads. Probably a brilliant orator like Obama’s teleprompter. 🙂

    Edward in reply to G. de La Hoya. | May 1, 2018 at 6:42 am

    AIt seems apparent that many High School students do not have a Civic class available to them, perhaps it is most appropriate for colleges and universities to provide that basic instruction, just as these institutions provide basic instruction in English and reading for deficient students (many of whom seem to forget both by the time they graduate).

      Edward in reply to Edward. | May 1, 2018 at 6:43 am

      Ignore that spare “A” at the beginning. Another typo I can’t fix.

      Anonamom in reply to Edward. | May 1, 2018 at 10:05 am

      That was my first thought, too, Edward. “Well, of COURSE it was at the level of high school civics, you moron. It’s the first time these young people have been exposed to a rational treatment of the topic!”

…alleges I’m part of a “well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities”

The Professor is taking over universities? How many will he have to conquer, before we can start calling him Professor Genghis Khan Jacobson?

To paraphrase one of my favorite, dearly departed actors: “What a jerkwagon!”

He also seems obsessed by the Kochs. As obsessed as some of the crazies on the right are about Soros, and even more crazed.

    alaskabob in reply to Milhouse. | April 30, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    Soros is more than an obsession….unfortunately there are big bucks at play, groups to foment , politicians to buy and countries to dissolve.

      Milhouse in reply to alaskabob. | May 1, 2018 at 9:07 am

      Soros is simply the anti-Koch, he’s a third Koch brother who’s playing for the dark side. He’s no more the Devil than the Kochs are, or than Trump is. Yes, he funds groups we don’t like. So what? It’s his money and his right, just as the Kochs have the right to fund groups the left doesn’t like.

      Yes, some of his money ends up used for bad purposes, sometimes even criminal ones, but there’s no evidence that he orders it or even knows about it in any specific way. When you hang around on the dark side it’s bound to happen, because political violence is a tool of the left, has been for well over a century, whereas on the right, at least in America, it was almost unknown for decades, until two years ago, and to the best of my knowledge there’s still no organized violence on our side. But none of this makes Soros the criminal mastermind that many of the crazy commenters here make him out to be.

        elle in reply to Milhouse. | May 1, 2018 at 10:01 pm

        Anyone who who claims to care about a better world and embraces Soros is either uninformed or a raging hypocrite. That you would suspend your humanity to embrace someone who is the antithesis of everything you are supposed to care about it stunning to me, it really is.

        So ultimately, you support a man who funds groups, like Antifa to show up at event’s like Prof Jacobson’s.


It is troubling, imho. Reason, ridicule and threats all have failed to stop the people from crying out, “The Emperor is naked!” What is left to silence this talk but force?

    Valerie in reply to elle. | May 1, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Ummm, Simkovic has had his 3minutes of fame. I’m done.

      elle in reply to Valerie. | May 1, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      I think you misunderstood. My point is that they have academia, the press, entertainment and even wall street, and yet we still point out that the Emperor is naked. Unless they can silence us by censorship or force, they will be exposed as fools.

Almost like what they say in China or Russia when someone mentions free speech…

If fascists didnt have lies, they’d have nothing.

If they didnt have useful idiots like this they can buy off so cheap, they’d broke.

Ragspierre | May 1, 2018 at 4:04 am

Call on him to come and debate you, Prof. At your school.

That would be larks…!!!

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | May 1, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Rags that would be priceless. Of course he would never have the courage to actually debate someone.

What I find most interesting is how those such as Simkovic use lies, innuendos, and other tactics as they attempt to smear and discredit those with whom they disagree while also supporting the Leftist students who run about screaming the unfairness of microaggressions. Why does it seem that analogies to Animal Farm keep cropping up in discussions about liberals/Leftists so often?

I’m a proud USC alumnus, and this is why I have stopped donating to USC. They started losing their way about 10 years ago, and have completely gone off the rails now.
Professor Jacobson is a patriot and a hero for being willing to stand up for free speech, and I commend him and all of his team here at LI for their continuing efforts in support of the First Amendment.

JusticeDelivered | May 1, 2018 at 7:58 am

Professor Jacobson, the kind of attack you have been subjected to has become common. The left has become rabid, and that is what caused me to totally reassess political goals and affiliations.

Perhaps there needs to be some sort of scalp taking organization?

Professor Simkovic has a head made for noogies.

Albigensian | May 1, 2018 at 10:02 am

” The basic proposition is that the only problem with free speech on university campuses is that a cabal of right-wing provocateurs are luring immature students into trying to shut them down.”

This “logic” was expressed more clearly by Orwell as “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Or by the bully who declared, “It’s not my fault, you made me smash your face! (by saying something I didn’t like, or looking at me, or something)”

It’s the logic of the Kafkatrap that insists a declaration of innocence (“I’m no racist!”) can only be evidence of guilt for (why else would you be “in denial”?). Whereas anything else (silence or confession) must also be taken as evidence of guilt.

One can only hope law students (if anyone) would possess the mental tools to parse such “logic.” At least when not overcome by the emotional high engendered by declarations that one must smash [this or that, whoever or whatever is the target of today’s 2-minutes hate).

I’d like to know more about this well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities. I just don’t see anything resembling a well-organized campaign, but want you to know I am available to join and fund it. Especially the taking-over part. The baiting and discrediting are of course just the fun to get people in the door.

    puhiawa in reply to John. | May 1, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    That is because you need special glasses to see the plotters.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to John. | May 1, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Oh, I can clear that up for you, we call “basically normal rational people” instead of a cabal.

Mazel tov!

When you teach Law/Accounting no one knows your name. When you shout racism, the MSM immediately hoist you on its figurative shoulders.
But on Monday, you must again teach Law/Accounting to your three senior students that look just like you do.

VaneWimsey | May 1, 2018 at 6:03 pm

If you don’t talk about race: “We need to have a dialogue about race. Check your privilege!”

If you do talk about race: “Professor Jacobson has made racially charged comments.”

You said:

” I don’t know why he felt the need to do this.”

Surely you know full well why. The Left feels a constant and visceral compulsion to attack and destroy any person with views that are not in line with theirs. They are not willing to debate or discuss policy. They will take our statements out of context and if necessary just make them up in order to embarrass and insult. We are, by definition, racists, bigots, white supremacists, homophobes, fascists, haters and, of course, Nazis, which I have been called for arguing that we should either enforce our immigration laws or change them.

What I don’t understand is why there are so many of them and why we simply turn the other cheek.