The Heckler’s Veto at Georgetown Law

Students shut down a speech. Now they want impunity for disrupters.

The Editorial Board   January 30, 2020

Georgetown Law students shamed the university last semester when they exercised a heckler’s veto against a Trump Administration official. Now they’re claiming that disciplining those who disrupted the event “would have a chilling effect on free speech and expression across campus.”

The controversy began last fall when Georgetown Law invited Kevin McAleenan, then the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to speak on immigration law and policy. Hundreds of law students signed a petition accusing Mr. McAleenan of implementing a “white nationalist-inspired” agenda and demanding his disinvitation. When the event proceeded anyway, student protesters prevented Mr. McAleenan from speaking.

Georgetown’s speech and expression policy states that students can face discipline for “disrupting events to prohibit other students from hearing the views of an invited speaker,” but the law school won’t say whether the hecklers were punished.

Instead the law school has convened an advisory committee to consider, among other things, the “response to disruptive protests during an event, and follow-up disciplinary or other administrative actions,” the school said in a statement. Georgetown University Law Center Dean William Treanor also asked the committee to consider whether there should be “any constraints on which outside speakers may be invited to speak on the Law Center campus,” the co-chairs wrote in an email to students.

Georgetown Law students are now offended by even the suggestion that discipline may follow disruption. “This is our school,” says a petition circulating on campus this week. “All members of our law school community have the right to protest speakers and events on campus—including in ways that the administration does not like and in ways that the university does not pre-authorize.” The students insist that “punishments or threats of punishments for students, staff, and faculty who protest run contrary to the values of free expression, thought, and inquiry.”

George Orwell, call your office. Georgetown’s students are demanding that administrators guarantee that their heckler’s veto will be unconditionally tolerated. If administrators fail to denounce this demand and the inverted logic behind it, they’re setting themselves up for another free-speech embarrassment.



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