‘Closed And Fearful Environment’: State Supreme Court Judge Resigns From University Over Conservative Speaker Backlash

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  • Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall resigned from his teaching position at the University of Kansas after university administrators allegedly tried to cancel an event with an Alliance Defending Freedom speaker.
  • The event was hosted by the school’s Federalist Society chapter, but administrators told the students to consider their “reputation.”
  • Students at Yale University protested an Alliance Defending Freedom speaker last semester, causing two conservative judges to boycott hiring law clerks from the school.

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall resigned from his teaching position at the University of Kansas School of Law after the university allegedly tried to pressure the Federalist Society chapter to cancel a speaker event which was deemed controversial, The Kansas City Star reported.

Stegall resigned in a Nov. 25 letter to KU Law School Dean Stephen Mazza and criticized KU faculty for allegedly trying to pressure its Federalist Society chapter into canceling its event with Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) director of strategic engagement Jordan Lorence. Stegall claimed to see “a dampening of the spirit of open inquiry,” according to the letter.

“So I write to let you know that, as a result, I will not be renewing my teaching relationship with KU Law next fall. During my time on the bench, I have endeavored bring the world of legal scholarship and the world of day-to-day judging closer together,” he wrote. “Teaching at KU Law has been a big part of that. But I do not want to do so in a closed and fearful environment, brimming with hidden hostilities and carefully nursed grievances.”

Federalist Society members asked the university to provide security for its event featuring Lorence after students and faculty began to voice opposition to the event, according to the letter. In response, Associate Dean Leah Terranova and Professor Pam Keller reportedly “pressured” the chapter to cancel the event and “warned the student leaders that they needed to consider and understand the impact the event could have on them.” The faculty members also reportedly told the students to consider how the event could impact their reputations.

ADF has been publicly attacked for its stance on LGBTQ+ issues. Under its Religious Freedom section, ADF claims that it “believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman” and that “God created man and woman as complementary equals and that sex is binary and biologically determined.”

“It is incredibly concerning that a prominent law school, which should be training future lawyers to persuade others through logic and legal principles, is instead actively working to suppress free expression on campus,” Lorence told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The administration’s labeling of ADF relies on unfounded and deliberate mischaracterizations from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is a thoroughly discredited, blatantly partisan activist organization with zero moral authority, which shouldn’t be able to make the rules about whose views are allowed on campus and whose aren’t.”

He continued, stating that “[t]his is contrary to everything a law school should be teaching and it is instead having negative impacts, including the resignation of Justice Stegall.”

“We must restore a culture of free speech and civil discourse at KU and other law schools, or the future of the legal profession will remain in dire straits,” Lorence said.

Stegall’s letter further clarified that he does not believe the professors made the recommendation to cancel the event to “threaten or coerce” the students, but described the interaction as “an ill-conceived attempt to protect those students.” (RELATED: Stephen Breyer Joins Harvard University Faculty After Retiring From Supreme Court)

“After all, it is true that in the current environment, being willing to swim upstream may in fact harm a person’s reputation and even standing in the legal community,” he wrote. “But isn’t that the problem? Rather than acquiescing to this, my hope and expectation is that leaders in the legal community would instead help protect the reputations of students willing to engage in difficult discussionsand guide them in that process.”

“Without that support, it took great courage for the students to carry on with the event,” he continued.

Stegall also recounted in his letter that the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Committee sent an email to the KU Law community which “described the speaker by his association with ADF as a practitioner of ‘hate speech'” and that the event would only be held to keep the university in compliance with the First Amendment.

“In my view, KU Law owes its students (all of them, not just the Federalist Society chapter) and the future of the rule of the law in Kansas better. And it is possible to correct course,” Stegall wrote. “But until that time, I can’t continue to provide tactic support to the current direction through my teaching affiliation with KU Law. Not when that direction so clearly threatens the basic pillars of our profession— and not when the duty to ensure the great conversation continues is so clearly ours to shoulder.”

KU, however, is not the only school to respond negatively to an ADF speaker stepping on campus.

In March 2022, over 120 students protested Kristen Waggoner, CEO, president and general counsel of ADF. Waggoner was invited by the Federalist Society to discuss the Supreme Court case Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski alongside Monica Miller, an associate at American Humanist Association, reported Yale Daily News.

Protesters reportedly disrupted the event by staging a walkout while the speakers were introduced, and many held signs and wore clothing in support of the LGBTQ+ community. The protesters who remained in the room were reportedly told to “grow up” by an administrator after they interrupted a reading of Yale’s free speech policy.

As a result, two conservative federal judges, James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, announced earlier this semester that they would boycott hiring law clerks from Yale to oppose the school’s alleged complicity in “cancel culture.”

Stegall was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas in 2014 to fill a vacancy on the bench. He recently retained his seat during the 2022 midterm election after securing 73% of the vote.

Stegall, the University of Kansas, the Federalist Society Chapter, Mazza, Keller and the DEIB Committee did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. Terranova could not be reached for comment.

This story has been updated with comment from Alliance Defending Freedom.

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