Thanks to Instapundit! (here)
I have reminisced at length about my student days at the University of Texas School of Law (here), and also expressed concern about the leftward drift of the Texas Law Review, on whose editorial board I served during 1979-80 (here). Recent events have only heightened my concerns (here). Specifically, on February 7-8, 2019, the TLR is co-hosting (with the left-leaning American Constitution Society) a constitutional law symposium at the law school, entitled “Reclaiming—and Restoring—Constitutional Norms,” that appears to be little more than an anti-Trump political rally. The announcement is here.
The announcement states, in part, that “The symposium is designed to bring together leading thinkers from across the country (and across the political spectrum) in an attempt to foster consensus with respect to the most important constitutional norms to have undergone erosion in recent years, and to discuss what—if anything—can and should be done to restore them going forward.”
Several features of the symposium lead me to question its neutrality. First, the panelists include the “usual suspects” of progressive activism, including UC Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet (discussed here), and UT’s own Steve Vladeck. The “center-right” panelists include NeverTrumpers Ilya Somin and Jonathan Adler, both signatories to the “Originalists Against Trump” statement prior to the 2016 election. The panels lack balance, as one might suspect from the ACS sponsorship.
More troubling is the selection of the opening keynote speaker, Sally Q. Yates. Yates’ claim to fame, aside from being a deputy AG in President Obama’s DOJ, serving under Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, is that for 10 short days she was “acting” AG under President Trump as a holdover appointment. She was fired when she refused to defend the President’s “travel ban” order, which was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yates was a partisan who was properly dismissed for insubordination, yet her selection as keynote speaker obviously attempts to portray her as a heroine or even a martyr.
As an outspoken UT alumnus (and Life Member of the Texas Law Review Association), I questioned the neutrality of the symposium when I became aware of it. I sent this email to the TLR editors:
"Sally Yates as keynote speaker? Seriously? Why not dispense with the fiction and invite Eric Holder himself? I am a Life Member of the TLRA, and not the only conservative alumnus of UT or the TLR. This type of political “statement” is a finger in the eye of many potential supporters (and subscribers), whom you alienate with such pointless stunts."
"To his credit, the editor-in-chief of the TLR responded, as follows:
Thank you for your interest in our symposium. You’ll notice on the flyer that we actually have two keynote speakers, one with Sally Yates, as you’ve pointed out, and another with Alberto Gonzales, a lifelong Republican and Attorney General under George W. Bush. Our original plan was to have a Republican AG and a Democrat AG in conversation with one another. We couldn’t achieve this goal because of the speakers’ schedules, so we compromised and scheduled two keynotes. Each will be set up as a conversation. We intentionally paired a conservative professor in conversation with Yates and a liberal professor with Gonzales, in keeping with our hopes for the symposium in general, which is to have a conversation among folks from across the political spectrum. This is why we have conservative and liberal law professors presenting. It’s also why I personally asked the Federalist Society to co-host the event with ACS (the Federalist Society declined)."
"The reason that both of these keynotes (Yates and Gonzales) are by-invitation-only is that they both take place during meals. Not only can TLR not afford to feed an unlimited number of guests, we also have space restrictions imposed on us by the respective venues. We aren’t hiding anything. TLR is quite proud to host Democrats and Republicans and to foster conversations among folks “across the isle” [sic] from one another."
"Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any further questions or concerns."
I replied as follows:
"Yates was an “acting” AG for how long? Paired with a Republican AG from nearly 20 years ago, when the theme is “erosion” of constitutional norms “in recent years”? I’m not buying it. This sounds like a Trump-bashing rally dressed up as an academic symposium, with the “right of center” speakers being mostly avowed NeverTrumpers such as Adler and Somin."
I posted about the symposium on my Facebook page, “Stop the Insanity at UT,” which has over 1,200 followers, but felt that it deserved mention here, since not everyone is on social media.
Selecting Sally Yates as the keynote speaker at a symposium on “Reclaiming—and Restoring—Constitutional Norms” is transparently tendentious. Her perspective is predictable. I’m afraid the Texas Law Review has joined the anti-Trump Resistance. Whoever is responsible for planning this one-sided event (either the leadership of the Texas Law Review Association or the current editors, or both) should be ashamed.