A group of 30 academics at Georgetown University’s Law Center have condemned an upcoming visit by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, lambasting his planned talk about free speech as “hypocritical” and “troubling.”
In a letter released Monday night, dozens of professors said they were vehemently opposed to the visit, which was announced just a day before Sessions was scheduled to speak at the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. A press release for the invitation-only event says Sessions will give remarks about “free speech on college campuses.”
“We, the undersigned, condemn the hypocrisy of Attorney General Sessions speaking about free speech,” the signatories wrote. “Sessions is a key cabinet member in an administration headed by a President who spent last weekend denouncing athletes engaging in free expression and calling for them to be fired.”
News of the visit sparked “unprecedented” outrage among several faculty members, according to Heidi Li Feldman, a Georgetown law professor who signed the letter. Feldman said the talk will be open only to students of Randy Barnett, director of the center that invited Sessions, law school student fellows and faculty members affiliated with it.
Aside from the recent attacks by President Donald Trump against NFL players who have knelt in protest during the national anthem, the letter points to other efforts by the Justice Department to quell free speech. Those efforts, they argue, include the ongoing prosecution of Desiree Fairooz, who was taken into custody after laughing during Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January, and the issuing of a warrant to identify people organizing a protest of Trump’s inauguration.
“This kind of government chilling of speech is precisely what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is meant to prevent,” the letter continues. “A man who fails to recognize paradigmatic violations of the First Amendment is a poor choice to speak about free speech on campuses.”
Feldman, who had made her opposition to Sessions’ visit apparent on Twitter before the letter was released, said she and her colleagues acknowledged the right of Barnett to invite the attorney general to the campus, but they still felt the need to voice their discontent.
“I have never seen a faculty so quickly and so numerously object to any speaker coming to campus, let alone an Attorney General of the United States of America,” Feldman said. “It is insulting to the community, to the idea of freedom of expression, and therefore to the very point of a law school, which is supposed to be communicating uncontested legal values.”
Several faculty members plan to protest the visit, and Georgetown’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, said students were planning their own demonstrations.
The episode is the latest in a Trumpian saga for Georgetown Law. The president’s daughter Tiffany recently began studying at the law school. And just last week, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was announced as a guest lecturer. A spokeswoman told The Washington Post she was unsure if Sessions and Yates would cross paths.