Stanford students walk out of talk about whether repealing DACA is legal

February 13, 2020 • 9:15 am

The episode I’ll discuss this morning doesn’t really constitute deplatforming, since the speaker got to speak. It’s not disinvitation, either, as the speaker spoke and his invitation wasn’t rescinded. Nor is it “censorship” in the formal sense because nobody prevented the speaker from speaking. So let’s call it “disruption of a talk”, which is nearly as bad because it prevented people from hearing a speaker whose views contravened those of Left-wing students. Well, it’s not even that since the speaker in this case, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, was supposed to be presenting both sides of the argument for whether DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy) was legal.

A wee bit of background: DACA offers those who came to the United States illegally as children a path to getting a work permit, though not citizenship. (The latter is the purview of the DREAM Act, which has never been passed.) DACA was established by President Obama in 2012, and its remit expanded two years later. Texas and 25 other states sued the government to block the expansion, a federal judge agreed, and an appeal to the Supreme Court gave a divided verdict (4-4) which meant the lower-court ruling stood.

That meant that although the expansion of DACA was blocked, and still is, the original DACA remains in force. Republicans oppose DACA in general, but I’m in favor of it as it’s a reasonable way to deal with those who came to the U.S. as minors and has had beneficial effects on the well-being of immigrants.

But the original and still-in-force DACA is still the subject of legal dispute, hinging on whether Obama had the executive power to create such a program that may really be the purview of Congress. One judge (in Texas) ruled in 2018 that the program is “probably illegal” but left it in place pending further litigation.

The upshot is that there’s a debate about the legality of DACA and whether a President has the power to institute it; and the lawsuits are ongoing.

This report, from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily, gives details about how Hawkins’s talk, which was supposed to give both sides of the issue, was disrupted by students (click on screenshot):

The nature of the disruption was twofold. First, a large number of students showed up, requiring the talk to be moved to a bigger room. They were also holding up posters, which I see as disruptive (it disrupts the speaker and blocks audience view.) When the audience was moved, and after Hawkins’s talk began, three-quarters of the students walked out, which also denied those who wanted to hear the talk, but couldn’t get in, a chance to listen. The walkout was organized by the Stanford Latinx Law Student organization in conjunction with 11 other student groups. (The walk-outs of course didn’t hear the talk either.)

It seems clear that (although Hawkins is probably opposed to DACA, he did give some arguments on both sides, presumably because they couldn’t find a professor to debate with him. From the paper:

Initially speaking before a packed room of students holding posters reading “No human being is illegal” or “Everyone is welcome here,” Hawkins prefaced his talk by saying that, since there was no planned rebuttal for the event, he would be arguing both sides.

But Hawkins’ track record aligns him with DACA’s legal opponents, and he spent the majority of his lecture explaining the substantive and procedural ways Trump could repeal DACA — emphasizing that he was making a purely legal argument.

“[Trump’s motion] did not say DACA is a bad policy,” he said. “It did not say that DACA was unworkable. … It just says that DACA is unlawful.”

Sidestepping questions of the value and impact of DACA, however, was exactly what those who walked out opposed.

“Purely legalistic discussions of DACA ignore the human element, which must be front and center,” SLLSA and the other groups wrote in a joint statement. “We cannot afford to disregard the presence and importance of DREAMers in all places, including here at SLS.”

But apparently Hawkins did argue both sides, though perhaps not with equal vehemence:

“DACA is unlawful for the same reason that DAPA was unlawful, according to the fifth circuit,” Hawkins said.

The arguments against DACA assert that former President Barack Obama did not have the power to institute the measure in the first place. DACA “confers on someone a status Congress would otherwise deny,” Hawkins said, including work authorization and lawful presence.

Pivoting to a pro-DACA legal argument, Hawkins said that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) grants the executive branch some leeway in enacting the U.S.’s body of immigration law.

“What the folks on the right need to grapple with is that the executive has discretion in enforcing the terms of the INA,” he said.

Well, DREAMers aren’t yet in existence, and DACA’s legality is still under debate, so one would think that, given the pending litigation, a discussion of its legality would be of interest. In other words, let the damn speaker talk!

But the students didn’t consider the issue even worth debating. A few excerpts show that view, including the claim above that the lecture was on an “intellectually cheap and morally affronting topic.” “Morally affronting topics” are, however, precisely those that are most crucial to debate! Here’s a student whining about how the talk was inappropriate:

Some who walked out of the event felt DACA’s legality isn’t even a question at all.

“It’s incredibly unfair that my fellow students have to face these extra burdens and then be reminded of them in school,” first-year law student Zoe Packman said. “We shouldn’t be discussing the legality of our student population. It’s not a valid question, there is no question there.”

Yes it is a valid question. Even if I hold, as I do, the position that DACA should be in place; I have no idea whether it’s legal. (The Congress could make it legal, but fat chance of that with a Republican Senate!) I have no sympathy for students like Packman who take it upon themselves to be The Deciders—to pronounce on what questions shouldn’t even be discussed at their school.

The Federalist Society, which sponsored the talk, said that they’d invited 11 professors to give a rebuttal to Hawkins’s talk, but none agreed. The protestors said that this was an inadequate “effort.” Well, for crying out loud, why didn’t they organize their own counter-discussion? (Apparently there was to be no Q&A after Hawkins’s talk.) I guess they can’t be arsed to do that kind of work. Instead, they just assert that debating the legality of DACA is not a valid question.

These are Stanford students, probably from both the Law School and the undergraduate school, and they are among the intellectual elite of America. Yet they’re extraordinarily censorious, and even afraid of hearing certain arguments. One would think that law students, at least, would appreciate the First Amendment. Yes, Stanford is a private school, but the arguments for freedom of speech still obtain. But they haven’t penetrated the crania of many Stanford students.


52 thoughts on “Stanford students walk out of talk about whether repealing DACA is legal

  1. The slogan “No human being is illegal” is annoyingly simplistic. True, no human being is *illegal*, but some human beings are in the U.S. *illegally*.

    (Full disclosure: I support DACA, because I believe its recipients should not be punished for having been brought to the U.S. illegally. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen by marriage.)

    1. This phrase is also popular here in Germany, and I share your opinion about it. “Kein Mensch ist illegal” – sure, whatever, but humans can do illegal things or be illegally somewhere (usually a country in this context).

      This populist grammatical nonsense annoys me every time I come across it.

      1. I take the slogan to be expressing a moral claim, albeit a vague one (and one that undergrads may have trouble articulating, but that doesn’t mean they are mindlessly parroting something they don’t understand). Namely, that no person ought to be denied equal opportunities (or to have their current life ripped apart, or some such) simply because of accidents of birth. Why should Juan have to justify his existence in LA when John doesn’t? Because Juan was born a few miles south? Morally that shouldn’t make a difference.

        Border control is basically government regulation of the labor market (something free market fundamentalists never seem to consider). Saying “someone is in my country illegally” really means my government has decided to discriminated against certain people on the grounds of birthplace. Saying “no human is illegal” is to reaffirm the fundamental equality of all people.

        1. I understand that, but the slogan is a response that neglects half of the issue adressed, e.g. “You’re here ilegally.” – “I’m not illegal!” – “Of course not, but you’re still HERE illegally.”

          I just don’t think that it helps someone’s agenda to knowingly misrepresent the opponent’s position. It just stops any constructive discussion dead in its tracks. And I beg to differ, as I regularly get the impression that many people repeat it mindlessly without getting its rhetorical problems.

  2. Point of information request …
    Does anyone know if the DACA cohort is closed for new entry? In other words, can more people get on its membership?

    If not, why not just sunset it out? Let everyone on DACA either leave the country or find a path to legal residency (if there is no path, US should make one.)

    1. Good question. The Wikipedia page on DACA has this;

      “The court’s temporary injunction does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request an initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA under the guidelines established in 2012.”

      1. Ir that is true, that is totally crazy. The world should be told – loudly – that DACA is closed and we are working on a path for those still on it.

      1. @Ken,

        So, that means that newly arriving children, or any that arrived after 2007, cannot get into the cohort. That is good. But any older people, if here since 2007, can still qualify. That is fair.

        What really matters is forging a path to legal residency, then to citizenship. (perhaps with a requirement that they pursue citizenship?)

        1. It bugs me that the Dem Presidential candidates are not offering a comprehensive immigration plan. At least I haven’t heard one. It might help fight the “Dems want open borders” meme for one thing. It might also stop the candidates from saying things that at least sound like they are for open borders. Last but not least, it might fix our immigration problems.

            1. Thanks. I should have remembered that Warren has detailed plans for everything. I scanned it briefly and nothing odd stood out. It isn’t calling for open borders, as far as I can tell. Of course, she’s not likely to be the candidate come November but perhaps whoever is will adopt it or something like it.

          1. All the Senate Democrats (and 14 Senate Republicans including McCain and Rubio) voted for the Immigration Reform bill of 2013, which passed by 68-32. [The Republican-led House of the time refused even to take it up.] The current Democratic presidential aspirants could easily express their support for this bill, or for a new one like it. I suppose their failure to do so reflects the difference between legislating—a practical endeavor—and campaigning, which consists to a large extent of hot air.

            1. During the primary the candidates are undoubtedly looking for differentiation from their competitors so perhaps agreement is too much to ask. Once we have our candidate, I think immigration will be a good one to use to hammer Trump up side the head. Hopefully, open borders was just the candidates trying to out-left each other.

  3. Who cares if these students liked the talk or not? Why are professors and faculty so intimidated by them? Last time I checked they didn’t run the school.

  4. The behavior of the students is par for the course. Why anyone on any subject would go to the college to speak would be my question. A talk on what is wrong with the students would surely be demonstrated against. As things are going now in this country we may not have to worry about the legality of anything. Just dial 1-800 Trump for the answer. All judges and laws will be suspended.

  5. Playing into my earlier comment in a different threat, the Millennials and Zoomers are facing a real world of declining social mobility and are trying to compensate by creating an exclusive club and consecrating territory to that exclusive club.

    You see the development of a complex system of social etiquette that non-college educated people neither understand nor want to understand. And you see this system of etiquette enforced on virtual and real territories.

    These kids at Stanford aren’t interested in a debate on immigration law, they are interested in signaling that they are members of a prestigious club, and that in their club, these kinds of discussions are not permitted. [People who want to debate immigration law need to take it to a public course.]

    I don’t think anyone is going to be able to take on woke culture unless they understand the intense status anxiety young people face, and the way wokeness is being used to compensate for that anxiety. It is a little bit like a cargo cult. We do this, it will please the gods of multiculturalism, they will rain down more cargo so we won’t have to worry anymore.

    1. But none of this is new. Back in the 1960s (how long ago was that?) I gave a talk at one of the Cal State campuses and was heckled for my views. The hecklers came to the talk just to heckle me. Heckle, heckle, heckle, and some of the protestors were menacing, as if they wanted to beat me up. It was ridiculous. I was prepared for civil disagreement but certainly wasn’t prepared for that and I had no idea what to do. If I recall, the moderator was able to silence them, though they grumbled or perhaps left. I gave another talk to a private audience and the same thing happened. I stopped giving talks on this subject and still refuse.

      1. I know the radicals used to send out the jackboots to rough people up when E.O. Wilson wanted to speak, and Harvard had to hire a body guard for Herrnstein when the Bell Curve came out, but short of people suggesting a genetic basis for racial differences or the David Irvings of the world, campus thuggery did not seem as common in days of yore. Maybe its just a media skew, but it seems like the threshold for campus temper tantrums is a lot lower.

        Now you have an attempt shut down a discussion of immigration law. That would have been a complete yawner back in the time of the Bell Curve. Next they’re going to want to ban German language instruction.

      2. In addition to zero tolerance for cognitive dissonance, what about the insistence on personalized pronouns, extremes of body mutilation and tattooing, and the rest of it.

        Cognitive dissonance has never been popular with anyone, but there seems to be something akin to an emerging syndrome.

  6. I do wonder how many of these were law students. Per your last para, these should want to know the answer to this, or at least hear both sides.

    I’d hazard a guess since the meeting had to be moved to a bigger room that the move was to accommodate the disruptors.

  7. I don’t think the student walkout was the most efficacious or wise way to protest the speaker. But I don’t think it constituted an infringement of the speaker’s free-speech rights (or of the free-speech rights of the students who remained to listen) and, indeed, may have constituted a protected exercise of the free-speech rights of the protesting students.

    As for bringing posters into the speaking venue, I think the university could ban them outright (or at least confine them to a size that would not disrupt others from viewing the proceedings), but any such ban would have to be viewpoint neutral, not directed specifically at those that are protesting the speech.

    1. That sounds fair to me. I certainly think a mass walkout is within the rights of audience members (although I’d hope they are courteous to those who want to stay and don’t stand around blocking their view or making noise for an unreasonable time).

      But denying those who want to attend the chance to by filling the seats with protesters (who don’t even end up listening), is a rather underhanded tactic. I can’t think of a fair and effective way to stop it, though. It seems to be within their rights, abusive as it may be.

  8. So…they came in, some of them held up some posters, and walked out. How is this ‘censorious’?

    If you’re saying that they denied others the right to hear the lecture because they took up seats I find that a strange argument. Did they block up the phone lines when booking those seats? Did they stop others from being able to fill those seats in the first place due to unfair tactics? It doesn’t sound like it.

    You could use the same logic to accuse anyone who’s not particularly interested in the lecture in question but who nevertheless turned up for it, of ‘denying others the opportunity to hear the lecture’. IMO if someone books a seat, they have the right to walk out if they decide to.

    And they’re also charged with disruption because the crowd turned out to be larger than expected? I don’t see how the appearance of a big crowd constitutes disruptive behaviour on the part of the students.

    I don’t like disruptive, obnoxious behaviour from students, but this seems quite far from that: a guy turns up to argue against DACA….as a concession to ‘impartiality’, the argument for DACA will also be made…but by the same guy. The talk is organised by the Federalist, one of the most right-wing, reactionary organisations in America. There is no opportunity for questions and answers after the…talk?…debate?…I suppose you’d call it.

    In response, a group of students, many(maybe even most) of them children of immigrants, decided to protest the talk by organising a walk-out. They didn’t shout the talker down, they didn’t stay and stop the others from hearing him. They just walked out.

    ” In other words, let the damn speaker talk!”

    But they did. They let him talk, and demonstrated their disagreement through protest. Surely this is the kind of thing students like yourself did in the 70s? WEIT has spoken about protesting the Vietnam war with peaceful civil disobedience…is this really worse than the kind of things students in the 70s did?

    1. No, I never walked out of a talk. I protested outside of talks, but you don’t seem to realize that these students have the attitude that neither they nor anybody else should have to listen to someone like the speaker. And yes, it’s worse than civil disobedience, which was deliberate flouting of an unjust law, knowing that you’d fall into the hands of the police and face the consequences. As you should know, students want assurance IN ADVANCE that they will face no consequences, even if their actions violate university policy.

      1. I think if they really all felt that “neither they nor anybody else should have to listen to someone like the speaker” they wouldn’t have just walked out, they’d have disrupted the talk, shouted over the speaker, even tried to snatch the microphone from the speaker, as some students have in the past.
        That was just shitty behaviour, and I was wholeheartedly with you in your criticism of that kind of thing. …This, not so much.

        The students weren’t given any chance to question the speaker in a Q and A either, and AFAICT there was no-one to balance this highly politically motivated talk. apparently the guy ‘presented the opposite side’ but I can’t say I have a great deal of faith in the impartiality and intellectual disinterest of hard-right-wingers.

        I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores of 70s student politics, as I don’t know enough. My impression of it is different, but then most of my information about that era comes from watching the odd episode of Citizen Smith with my dad.*

        Also, this should be about whether what they did constitutes censorship, not about whether someone is prepared to go to jail for their beliefs or not. I reckon these students also believe that they’re fighting an unjust law, just like you did back then.

        I admit there’s something to be said for the guts it takes to face incarceration knowingly, but I don’t think that makes 70s civil disobedience protests more legitimate and acceptable. You could argue it makes them more ballsy and courageous, but that’s a separate issue.


    2. Certainly I’d agree that if people go to a talk and then decide to walk out, even in mass, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But when it’s a preplanned tactic to reserve most or all of the seats for protesters who have no intention to stay, for the purpose of denying a speaker an audience then it does seem wrong. And I’d bet that an examination of the protest organization would reveal this as the case – and certainly I’ve seen it made explicit at some other college protests.

      But I suppose it’s within their rights to do that, as long as the university doesn’t establish some policy against it – and such a policy would be hard to enforce.

  9. I can see where the administration’s position pisses people off. It is so disingenuous to argue that they only care about DACA’s technical legality. Still, nothing wrong with discussing it.

    1. A Law school discussing an issue framed in such a way as to explore the legal issues inherent seems to me perfectly in line with the school’s mission and obligations.

      I see no reason to assume ulterior motives for engaging in a discussion of legal issues at a law school.

      I’m with Dr PCCe – though these students were not censorious and did engage in legitimate protest, for law students to refuse to discuss legal issues because they have some moral objection to the people who oppose the law is not scholarship.

      They should be called out on that. Sticking ones fingers in their ears and shouting “la la la I can’t hear you” is no way to understand the legal issues which pertain, and which as lawyers they will be (or ought to) expected to understand, no matter how much one despises the people who oppose the legal issues at play.

      Being afraid of scary ideas is not a good start for any student.

      1. Am I wrong, or was there no Q and A after the talk? If that’s true, then there was no chance for anyone to discuss anything said there at all. They would just be given one side of the story, by the speaker, then the same guy told his version of the opposition’s side of the story.

        It sounds like a pretty shoddy showing from what I’ve read. I see a lot more censoriousness in the talk itself, devoid of a Q and A, and with only a single, partisan speaker presenting both sides.

        1. It is not the speaker’s obligation to have a Q&A session. I would have, but it’s not required. And I’ve gone to many, many talks where there wasn’t one. I wouldn’t say that was “shoddy”. And give me a break: sometimes a speaker presents only a SINGLE point of view, and there are either no or limited questions. I in fact have done that when time has run out.

          Students can protest the talk, hold counter talks and write stuff about it.

          By the way, I once went to a talk by Christopher Hitchens where no Q&A was allowed (big audience, no time), and he presented, of course his partisan view. Was that “a shoddy piece of work?”

          At least he tried to give both sides of the story, and you can see above he didn’t completely neglect one.

          The claim that his talk was “censorious” is arrant nonsense.

          1. I’ve no idea whether the talk Hitchens gave was shoddy. How could I know that? I don’t know what it was about.

            But…if it was about a single, highly polarised political issue, and if it went into the legal minutiae of it like this talk did, without having a counter-speaker or a Q and A, then yes, I’d be very comfortable calling that a shoddy set-up. Although I don’t think Hitch would’ve done that.

            …And my point was not that the talk was particularly censorious, but that it makes just as much sense, and probably more, to call it censorious than to call the students’ behaviour censorious.

            Again; they turned up, held up some posters, and then left. They didn’t stop anyone speaking, didn’t shout anyone down.

            By comparison, an impartial speaker turned up, spoke on an incredibly sensitive political subject which directly affected many of the students, and left without giving any right of reply. (And of course the students aren’t owed a Q and A – that’s not the point. The speaker isn’t owed an audience that remains in their seats throughout either.)

            I think that it makes more sense to describe the set-up of the talk as censorious than the behaviour of the students. That’s my position and I don’t think it’s “arrant nonsense” at all.

        2. Well, I don’t know the circumstances around the Q&A but that is not relevant to my point. Also, we don’t know if the “single, partisan speaker” was, in fact, partisan, but again, that irrelevant to my point.

          This was not, AFAIK, a formal kind of law school educational event, but it was done under the auspices of the school and was targeted to law students. The talk may or may not have been pedagogically sound; but that is precisely why they should have listened.

          Let me be clear; for law students to dismiss a presentation of legal issues because they object to the moral character of the one making the argument IS the student’s prerogative; I don’t fault them for protesting (for the reasons you cite above). But don’t confuse the protest with legal scholarship. It isn’t, it reflects poorly on the students and, to that extent, they should be called out.

          I will note though, Simon Hayword’s comment above; it could be that the students who walked out weren’t even law students. In which case, I’m just blowing smoke. As usual

            1. I’ve always used it to mean obfuscation but with the quality of the speaker not really knowing what he’s talking about.

              1. Thanks. Now you mention it, I think I might know where the saying came from: there used to be a belief that you could revive drowning people by blowing smoke up their rectums with a kind of specially-made pipe.

                They used to arrange them along the Thames, in case of emergency(the pipes, not the rectums).

                I’ve never heard a Brit use it as a phrase, and I didn’t know what it meant before now.

              2. My mother livrd in the East End as a child during WW2. She never mentioned the smoke pipes. She recalled that if a child was dragged from the Thames unresponsive a cry went out and a particular mab would toss the child over his shoulder and he would run to a doctor”s practice. Apparently the run revived a lot of children.

  10. Fighting a legal argument with an emotional appeal seems like bringing a knife to a gun fight. You need to learn the weaknesses in their legal argument, to make a better one inspired by emotion.

    1. My side has progressively lost the ability to argue and persuade. I see it when young liberals go on TV and debate with someone from, say, Spiked or Breitbart. It’s embarrassing how badly they do. They’re either painfully earnest or painfully condescending.

      Their political beliefs have been under so little real threat for so long, that they’ve forgotten the art of debate.

      As an incredibly argumentative person it frustrates me watching them get mauled by reactionary bluffers and con-artists.

    1. Because they don’t expect to find themselves in a courtroom arguing a case tried under a law which they disapprove of, I guess. Or they believe ignorance is knowledge.

  11. I think I’m okay with the walkout. It seems like very close to exactly the sort of protest we should be supporting; it was peaceful, the speaker was allowed to speak, etc..

    I get the argument that by taking up seats, they may have prevented other people from hearing the lecture. However I think some disruption needs to be considered reasonable, else you end up arguing against MLK-style sit-ins. Those protestors were preventing other people from eating at the counter!

    There’s never going to be a “perfect” protest from everyone’s perspective. After all, part of the point of a protest like this is to get people who don’t want to pay attention to you (or perhaps your message), to pay attention to you. This is certainly not perfect from the perspective of the person who just wants to go about his/her business. But it’s also not doing much social harm to them. Next time, live cast it on you tube or something so that people who can’t get into the auditorium can hear it, and call it a day.

  12. I’m not sure I even understand what the point of protesting ANY talk would be, especially when the obvious option of non-attendance is always available.

    Furthermore, protest movements are defined by their goals (i.e. demands). Is the goal here to prevent discussion of immigration legislation without a pre-approved list of speakers by an official board of student bureaucrats?

    Of course, there may be no tangible strategy for obtaining any concrete victory, and this is just public display of grievance as an end in itself. Maybe so that they can tell their children (in the decades to come) that they rose in defiance against ‘fascism’.

  13. All arguments for and against aside, it seems to me that if you find a talk offensive, inappropriate or boring it is perfectly fine to walk out. But I disagree that banners should have been brought in. That is simply enforcing your opinion on others, that may have wanted to listen, so that can never be appropriate. Just because you can do something doesn’t make it right.

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