Revered UCLA law professor and First Amendment guru Eugene Volokh found himself in somewhat of a heated back-and-forth with Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday over the issue of free speech on campuses.
The hearing came after chaos unfolded earlier this year over a scrapped appearance by conservative author Ann Coulter at the University of California at Berkeley. Volokh decried the so-called “heckler’s veto,” which is a term used to describe law enforcement’s decision to restrict free speech over fear of violence, and defended the right of controversial speakers to appear on campuses.
One of the points of contention was over whether public schools should be responsible for ensuring security when controversial speakers are heading to campuses to hold events. While Volokh placed the responsibility on schools and government, Feinstein seemed to disagree with that assessment, Mediaite reported.
“One of the problems that I have is that there is an expectation that the university handles it. The handling of it, means that you have resources to be able to send and those resources know what to do,” the senator said. “And particularly for the public university, and particularly for the University of California, there is a constant battle with the legislature over money.”
But Volokh said that local police should come alongside universities when additional security is needed or when funding comes up short.
“I would think that Berkeley police department would also be able and should be willing to lend police officers to help out,” Volokh said. “If we are in a position where our police departments are unable to protect free speech, whether it’s universities or otherwise, then yes, indeed, we are in a very bad position.”
Feinstein pushed back as the two continued to debate. The professor said that there might be select and extreme cases in which a speaker should not be accommodated, but added that free speech must be protected.
“It’s the job of the government,” Volokh said. “I’m not a big believer in large jobs for the government, but one important job of the government is to prevent violence and to prevent violence without suppressing free speech.”
Watch the back-and-forth:
Feinstein said during the hearing that she supports free speech, but seemed to indicate that there are limitations.
“I appreciate free speech,” she said. “Those of us who run for office, we run for office on the basis of being able to speak freely. It’s another thing to be agitative, it’s another thing to foment and it’s another thing to attack.”