DANIEL VAUGHAN: Harvard caves to student mob, harms the rule of law

May 20, 2019

As we venture ever further into the brave new world of censorship on college campuses, the pernicious mob mentality has now reached one of the pillars of the rule of law: the right to an attorney.

This time, campus radicals at Harvard have forced university administrators to fire a law school dean for the “grave sin” of joining the legal team of Harvey Weinstein.

Alongside his wife Stephanie Robinson, Ronald Sullivan was fired by Harvard administrators from his role as faculty dean of the school’s Winthrop House because the representation he gave to Weinstein was apparently “trauma-inducing” and allegedly provided evidence that he does “not value the safety of students he lives with in Winthrop House.”

In its reporting, The New Republic went even further than the radicals, attacking Sullivan personally — with little evidence, it is worth noting — and accusing him of perpetuating the #MeToo culture because he supports defending those accused of sexual misconduct. Because Sullivan provided defense for the accused, they say, he only contributed to a culture of rape and sexual assault.

These arguments are, of course, utterly ludicrous.

Ronald Sullivan has a long history of helping the wrongfully accused. As Robby Soave over at Reason magazine noted, Sullivan has been an integral part of pushing criminal justice reform on a variety of fronts: “He advised Sen. Barack Obama on criminal justice issues in 2008, represented the family of Michael Brown in their suit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, and is responsible for the release of more than 6,000 wrongfully incarcerated people.”

Think about that for a moment: Sullivan helped free more than 6,000 people who were wrongfully jailed over criminal accusations.

And yet that’s the exact point that campus radicals and others are using to say that he’s “trauma-inducing.”

In one of its landmark cases on the importance of legal counsel, Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the rights of the accused, quoting a prior decision that said:

[The assistance of counsel] is one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment deemed necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty… The Sixth Amendment stands as a constant admonition that, if the constitutional safeguards it provides be lost, justice will not still be done.

The court went on to state more directly: “The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law.”

In other words, if you are accused of criminal conduct in America, it is imperative that you have legal counsel. There is an entire legal apparatus designed to convict people, and defense lawyers, private and public, are often the only thing standing between the accused and state punishment.

So yes, even someone as despicable as Harvey Weinstein deserves legal counsel. Weinstein is rich and can afford some of the top lawyers. Other defendants are not as fortunate and rely on the capable minds of public defenders.

Either way, everyone is ensured the right to legal counsel. Without that foundational principle, the rule of law would collapse.

Some, like the New Republic, have argued that Sullivan’s firing from Harvard does not harm Weinstein’s right to representation. But that flatly ignores what’s happening here: Sullivan, who has a long and proud history of helping the wrongly accused, is being judged for offering the same representation to everyone.

There are thousands of people accused, rightly and wrongly, of rape and sexual assault every day. By the logic getting trotted out, we should pull funding from public defender programs, end clinics with law schools that provide legal representation for indigent clients, and let these defendants get help with their resources simply because they allegedly committed a crime society especially doesn’t like right now.

And that’s the real issue here: in the court of public opinion, Weinstein has already been convicted. He has not been convicted by the criminal court system, though I believe he ultimately will have that fate.

The real principle these radicals are pushing is that if they convicted you in the court of public opinion, anyone who helps you in that defense should get the same punishment. Indeed, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes outright suggested that should lawyers face some sort of blowback for the clients they choose to take on.

As Kyle Smith put it, the inmates are running the asylum.

“There is a reason you don’t let inmates run your asylum, allow your toddler to eat candy for dinner, or tell the Labrador retriever sitting behind the wheel of your car, ‘OK, Duke, I guess you drive,'” Smith wrote for the New York Post. “Those who are, mentally speaking, a few slices short of a loaf don’t get to make grown-up-people decisions.”

Havard should have stood up to this blatant stupidity and supported its law faculty. Sullivan did nothing but represent the highest ideals of the legal community. If that’s what gets him fired from the dean of a university house, then we’re truly teaching the wrong values to students.

It’s also worth noting the racial imbalance developing in these progressive public courts, both on campus and in the media. On campus, black men make up only 6% of the college student population, but they make up the overwhelming majority of Title IX kangaroo court proceedings.

And in the court of public opinion, progressive activists are targeting black men too — people like Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, and now Ronald Sullivan are being treated harshly.

Not only are progressive institutions as illiberal as ever; they’re just as racist as their 1930s counterparts. We need to start opposing these mobs instead of feeding them. Allowing attacks on the rule of law is a terrible precedent to set.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.