Progressive group wants to ban ‘fossil fuel lawyers’ from law school faculty and events

Progressive group wants to ban ‘fossil fuel lawyers’ from law school faculty and events
Yale Law School, Sterling Bldg. Wikipedia. By Shmitra at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

An organization of progressive law students has proposed barring “fossil fuel lawyers” from “serving in law school governance,” being employed by law schools, or being featured at law school events.

Law Students for Climate Accountability set forth its proposal in a report that rated law schools based on how few “fossil fuel lawyers” they graduated.

The organization also demanded that schools restrict “academic opportunities focused on fossil fuels” to keep students from providing legal representation to fossil fuel companies.

Law Students for Climate Accountability is funded by the Earth Island Institute, which has brought landmark legal challenges, including in the Supreme Court.

Its proposals, if accepted, could lead to law schools firing professors who have worked for these companies.

Law Students for Climate Accountability regularly protests campus events where lawyers who have represented fossil fuel companies speak, including a 2021 event at Yale Law School featuring leading appellate litigator Kannon Shanmugam.

A George Washington University law professor criticized the organization’s demands.

“This is only the latest example of speech intolerance on our campuses,” said Professor Jonathan Turley. “Climate change is one of the foremost debates of this generation but many would like that debate to be little more than a diatribe. There are people of good faith on both sides of these issues….the underlying legal issues are complex and often raise a myriad of related constitutional and contractual issues. A vibrant institution of higher education welcomes such diversity of opinions.”

Turley also suggested the group’s demands would purge some of the few moderate and conservative faculty members who still teach at law schools. Turley said “there are actually few conservatives left to cull from faculties. The number of conservatives or libertarians on faculties has been falling for years.”

The American Association of University Professors has not taken a position on the group’s demands. Another progressive-leaning group that publicizes free speech controversies, PEN America, said it does not currently “have a position on this issue. But we are following developments.” It also has avoided addressing campus efforts to ban funding of academic research from oil and gas companies. But PEN America did find the time to defend a Wayne State University professor who wrote on Facebook it would be better to kill right-wing “transphobes” than to just “shout them down.”

Law Students for Climate Accountability has inspired other groups that share its view that lawyers are not “neutral actors” when they represent controversial clients, to similarly seek to prevent law faculty from representing such clients. It has encouraged other progressive groups to make similar proposals to promote “labor justice, reproductive justice, immigration justice and abolition” of police and prisons.

Progressive students founded Law Students for Climate Accountability in 2020 as a follow-up to the #DropExxon campaign, where students from multiple law schools picketed recruiting events for the big-name law firm Paul, Weiss and pressured it to stop representing the oil company Exxon.

The College Fix describes that campaign:

Harvard law students yelled out of a megaphone during a formal restaurant dinner in 2021 sponsored by Paul, Weiss, brought a large #DropExxon banner and shouted at the visiting attorneys. One student accused the firm of “climate murder.” Yale students waged a similar protest.

Law Students for Climate Accountability’s two founders, Scott Stern and Camila Bustos, urged “weaponized shame” against people who they view as culpable for climate change.

Writing for an anti-capitalist blog at Yale in 2020, they argued “the death of ‘civility’ surrounding the climate crisis is clarifying and long overdue.” Instead, they called for “more frankness” and “weaponized shame—aimed, for once, not at the powerless, but at the powerful.”

Stern now works for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice while Bustos is set to start as a law professor at Pace University, according to her Linkedin.

Both of the climate accountability group’s founders were students at Yale Law School, which has drawn criticism for allowing students to shut down right-leaning speakers, with at least two federal judges boycotting Yale Law by not recruiting clerks from the school.

One of them, Judge James Ho, noted in a speech that “Yale not only tolerates the cancellation of views—it actively practices it.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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