Trump-appointed judge wants Stanford to apologize for disrupted speech

U.S. Circuit Judge S. Kyle Duncan appears before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination hearing in Washington, D.C., on November 29, 2017. U.S. Senate/Handout via REUTERS
  • U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan says students were "deeply uncivil" at speech
  • Protesters cited positions on civil rights

March 10 - A federal appeals court judge appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump on Friday said Stanford Law School in California owed him an apology after dozens of student protesters including LGBTQ rights supporters disrupted an event he spoke at on Thursday.

U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a member of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an interview said he was "offended" and "disturbed" by the "deeply uncivil behavior" of the students who derailed a speech he was set to deliver, as well as that of a law school administrator who he says "attacked" him in her introductory remarks.

"It would be nice if they reached out to me and said, 'Gee, we're sorry," he said of Stanford.

In an message to students on Friday, Stanford Law dean Jenny Martinez said preventing a speaker from presenting through heckling or other means violates the school's policies.

"However well-intentioned, attempts at managing the room in this instance went awry," she wrote. "The way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech."

Duncan compared the protest to incidents at other law schools, including Yale and Georgetown, where student-led protests of conservative speakers prompted discussion about whether law schools are living up to their ideals as bastions of open debate and free speech.

"I told [students] this is not going to work in a courtroom, this way of disagreement," he said. "Maybe that’s where we are going as a society, but that doesn’t work in my courtroom."

The event, hosted by the Stanford chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, was titled "The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter," a reference to some of his court's biggest cases.

But Duncan said he did not get far into his planned remarks, saying he was heckled by some of the estimated 100 protesters who he said shouted at him and were carrying "vulgar" signs in some cases critical of him.

A coalition of students spearheaded by OutLaw, a campus LGBTQ group, was upset that Duncan was invited to speak, saying he has taken positions that threatened the rights of LGBTQ people, immigrants, Black voters, women and others, according to a campus-wide email from a Stanford official that Reuters has reviewed.

Law student Tessa Silverman, who attended the protest, told Reuters that Duncan himself appeared angry and called some students "idiots," something Duncan acknowledged and repeated during Reuters' interview.

"They are idiots," he said. "They are hypocrites and they are bullies."

He also criticized a Stanford official, Tirien Steinbach, the law school's associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, who in a video of the event posted online by the conservative publication National Review addressed him and the crowd before the judge spoke.

"For many people at the law school who work here, who study here, and who live here, your advocacy—your opinions from the bench—land as absolute disenfranchisement of their rights,” she told Duncan in the video clip.

Duncan said he felt attacked by Steinbach's comments.

"In my view, this was a setup, she was working with students on this," he said.

Steinbach did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at

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