The Student Bar Association at Washington University Law School seems to be a bunch of nitwits. The association voted to deny funding to a right-to-life group, on absurdly contrived grounds. (Using “right-to-life” in the group’s title, but not opposing the death penalty, was deceptive. No, really. Eugene Volokh explains it all here.)

There’s nothing to be said in favor of this. But the good news is — I boldly predict — no one will in fact say anything in its favor. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is strongly pro-choice on abortion, wrote a stiff letter to the SBA. This, despite the fact that WashU is a private institution, so the question of governmental content-based discrimination in speech doesn’t arise. The ACLU just thinks as a matter of principle that this kind of nonsense is wrong. Good for them! And that’s what roughly everyone on the left side of things is going to say.

(No, I’m not going to rejoin the ACLU; I quit when they figured out a civil-liberties rationale for being against nuclear power, and I can’t stand the way they approach every criminal justice policy issue from a pro-defendant angle, conceding nothing to the need for effective crime control. But I’m glad they exist, and that they defend the freedoms of those with whom they disagree.)

But let me propose a thought experiment. Imagine that the Student Bar Association of, say, Pepperdine University Law School, refused funding for a pro-choice student group. I’m sure Eugene would speak out against that decision. But what organization on the right would, as a matter of principle, step up to the plate as the ACLU did in this case?

Think about that the next time tells you that conservatives have priniciples and liberals don’t.


I’m told there’s a certifiably right-wing group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that would behave similarly. Good!


Apparently FIRE isn’t really right-wing at all; Harvey Silverglate, who is (or at least was) also active in the ACLU, is the co-director. (The FIRE website is here.)

So that reinstates my original question: Is there any organization of conservative stripe — a group consistently identified with conservative causes, as the ACLU is consistently identified with liberal causes — that also consistently speaks up for the free-speech rights of people with whom it disagrees?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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