Law professors at Georgetown University want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to know he’s exactly the wrong one to talk about free speech. Sessions, the man Coretta Scott King warned us all about, will be at the university’s campus tonight to deliver his remarks.
More than 30 law professors from the Georgetown University Law Center signed off on a statement (pdf) condemning the hypocrisy of having the Justice Department chief and living embodiment of a shriveled Keebler elf (if those elves specialized in upholding white supremacy instead of making prepackaged cookies) talk about the First Amendment.
The letter, which was first picked up by HuffPost, is essentially an itemized receipt detailing just a few of the reasons why any representative of Donald Trump’s administration is unqualified to speak on the First Amendment. As you might expect, the list includes the president’s recent attacks on NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem:
President Trump calls African-American professional football players kneeling in quiet protest “sons of bitches” and angry, armed white supremacists “very fine people.” Attorney General Sessions’ own office is currently prosecuting Desiree Fairooz for unlawful conduct; her alleged crime is laughing for a few seconds during Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearings last January and then loudly protesting her unlawful arrest. In August, the Justice Department issued a warrant to a web hosting company named DreamHost to obtain the identifying and contact information of subscribers organizing an online protest of the Trump Inauguration.
The letter writers add that the above are just three examples of actions by the Trump administration that are “antithetical” to free speech. We could also add the administration’s repeated calls for ESPN anchor Jemele Hill to be fired to the list of First Amendment offenses that occurred within the last month alone.
The Georgetown Law faculty also say that “this kind of government chilling of speech is precisely what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is meant to prevent.” Of Sessions specifically, the professors wrote that “a man who fails to recognize paradigmatic violations of the First Amendment is a poor choice to speak about free speech on campuses.”
Georgetown Law professor Alicia Plerhoples spoke to BuzzFeed News about her decision to participate in the protest, making it clear that faculty members are not protesting Sessions’ right to free speech.
“Our colleague had every right to invite [Sessions] to speak,” Plerhoples told the outlet. “We are protesting against his and the Trump administration’s views on free speech.”
The law faculty will be joined in their protests tonight by Georgetown Law students outside the auditorium where Sessions will be speaking. One student helping to organize the protest efforts told BuzzFeed via email that they hope to have more than 100 student and faculty demonstrators tonight.
According to that student, Richard Hand, some of his classmates plan to duct-tape their mouths to represent that the Trump administration “has silenced more voices than they have emboldened.”
“The students will then remove the duct tape to voice questions they would like to ask the attorney general over a microphone,” Hand said.
The university will limit attendance to Sessions’ event, presumably to suppress any potential for protest—itself a form of protected speech.
The speech is being hosted by the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, which is run by the prominent conservative law professor Randy Barnett. According to the message sent to students whose confirmations to attend were withdrawn, attendance will be limited to students who previously signed up to attend Center for the Constitution events, and students enrolled in Barnett’s classes. The speech is open to the press.
It’s unclear whether limiting attendance was a request from the Department of Justice or a decision made by the school.
Taking the knee, popularized by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, was originally intended to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter and to call attention to the injustices that people of color face. Kaepernick told NFL Media over a year ago that he couldn’t stand up to show pride for a country that oppresses black people and other people of color. While he originally sat for the anthem, Kaepernick later opted to take a knee out of respect for military service members.
The Georgetown protest signals that the gesture has taken on a broader meaning in the public sphere, symbolizing opposition to Trump and his administration.