During a speech [text, video] at the Georgetown University Law Center [press release] on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice will become more involved in the “national recommitment to free speech on campus[es].” Citing recent incidents at community colleges in Battle Creek, Michigan and Los Angeles, California [complaints, PDF], where students were arrested for or prohibited from handing out copies of the Constitution outside of designated “free speech zones,” Sessions said the DOJ will “enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come.”
Notably, Sessions gave the speech on the same day the DOJ filed [press release] a Statement of Interest [text] in a lawsuit related to “free speech zones” at Georgia Gwinnett College in Georgia. Sessions mentioned the filing in his speech, adding that similar filings could be expected in “the weeks and months to come.”
Sessions decried the actions of protesters, whom he referenced as part of an increasing “cottage industry” against free speech. He pointed to a recent incident at Middlebury College [Burlington Free Press report] in Vermont, where students protesting a debate between a professor and Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray [official profile] were successful in shutting the event down with protests that later turned violent. Sessions said colleges that acquiesce to protesters, including canceled events at Berkeley, Brown and Virginia Tech, were permitting “the heckler’s veto” to control decisions on the exchange of ideas.
Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack. The American university was once the center of academic freedom—a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.
Following the speech, Sessions answered questions that had been submitted by students on topics ranging from the use of Senate Rule 19 to silence Elizabeth Warren [WP report] during Sessions’ confirmation hearing and President Trump’s reaction to NFL player protests [NYT report] during the National Anthem.
Around 100 students and faculty members protested [WP report] the speech, holding signs and shouting questions they would have asked through a bullhorn. Sessions briefly addressed the protesters from the stage, promising to fight for their right to express their opinions.