Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Silencing is a powerful tool of oppression. Creeping authoritarianism has reinvigorated silencing as punishment and a way to limit free speech.
On September 11th, 24 of 28 University of North Carolina trustees voted to ban the UNC Chapel Hill's Law School Center for Civil Rights from engaging in litigation. This ban follows the Center's long struggle to maintain academic integrity and freedom.
Trustee Steven Long, previously affiliated with a conservative think tank, spearheaded the vote. He claims that a state university should not be “hiring full-time lawyers” to sue anybody, much less the state government. He said that the center defines civil rights in a way that’s too political, and that its litigation efforts go beyond its academic mission. Of course, clinics and centers involved in litigation are a staple of US clinical legal education. The University's Board Chair, Lou Bissette, acknowledged that he was not aware whether the Center's work was consistent with the law school's academic goals. He simply felt that the law school should refrain from civil rights litigation because "people do not agree." Bissette went on to say that he understood that law school clinics can engage in litigation because they operate under the supervision of the ABA. Confused, perhaps, Bissette seems to have missed the point.
Silencing often back fires. The Center and its attorneys are privately funded. While litigation through the law school center may formally halt, the funders could decide to simply move the project offsite, where law students could still participate as clinic students or externs. Or, Chairman Bissette may have provided a more simple remedy. Dissolve the Center and create the Civil Rights Clinic. Either way, silencing could be the foundation for promoting an even louder voice for civil rights.