It was the last day of class at Stanford Law School, May 27, when Nicholas Wallace said he was blinded by a message from one of the deans informing him that his degree was under threat for potential misconduct.
His offense: Emailing a flyer to other law students in January that he claimed was from the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative and libertarian group with a chapter in law school.
The satirical flyer promoted a discussion of the Jan. 6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol, featuring Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The title of the simulated event: “The Original Argument for Incitement to Insurgency.”
The chapter leaders were not amused. They filed a complaint on March 27 with the university, which said in a message to Mr Wallace that it was not until May 22 that the plaintiffs asked the administration to pursue the case.
“I was stunned,” Mr. Wallace, 32, said in an interview Wednesday. “I couldn’t believe that without more than this letter of concern they placed my degree and everything that I have worked for the past three years they put that in jeopardy.”
Mr. Wallace’s predicament has attracted national attention from free speech groups and conservatives. It served as another example of the intense debate over political discourse on college campuses in America.
In response to questions on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Stanford University said in an email that Mr Wallace would eventually be allowed to graduate after administrators consulted with the university’s legal counsel, who concluded that the case involved speech protection issues.
“In cases where the complaint is made close to graduation, our normal procedure is to place a graduation diploma on hold on the respondent,” spokesman EJ Miranda said. “The complaint was resolved as quickly as possible, and the Respondent and the Complainant have been advised that the case law holds that the email is a protected word.”
Mr Miranda said the university would also reconsider its procedures for blocking student degrees in court cases nearing graduation.
The president of the Federalist Society’s campus chapter did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
Mr Hawley, who received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, has been widely criticized for opposing the certification of presidential election results. Mr Paxton came under scrutiny for his appearance at a rally in support of Donald J. Trump in Washington on the day of the siege.
Representatives for Mr Hawley and Mr Paxton did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday evening.
Mr Wallace’s satirical leaflet, which he said he emailed to a Listserv forum for law students on January 25, nearly three weeks after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill, has drawn attention.
The flyer stated that the event was presented by the Federalist Society on January 6.
“Information about the riots will be emailed on the morning of the event,” said the flyer, offering Grubhub coupons to the first 30 students who responded affirmatively for the dummy program. “Although it is widely accepted that it conflicts in all respects with the rule of law, violent insurgency can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”
Two days after the satirical flyer was sent by Mr. Wallace, it was the subject of a fact-checking article by USA Today, which reported that the email was a form of satire.
In a complaint to the university, unidentified agents in the Federalist Society chapter said Mr. Wallace’s email caused significant harm and led other organizations to cancel their events with the group. .
“Wallace defamed the group of students, its officers, Senator Josh Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton,” the complaint reads. Wallace, posing as the Stanford Federalist Society, wrote on the flyer that “riot information will be emailed on the morning of the event,” implying that the group of students were encouraging and organizing a riot. He also wrote that Attorney General Paxton is arguing for the “overthrow[ing] the results of free and fair elections ”by“ calling on a violent crowd to storm the Capitol ”. And he wrote that Senator Hawley thinks violent insurgencies are justified. “
The names of the plaintiffs were redacted from the complaint, which was posted online Monday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group working to defend free speech on college campuses. Mr. Wallace had asked the group for help.
“By instituting an investigation and suspending Wallace’s degrees before graduation, Stanford is betraying its legal and moral commitments to respect the speech rights of its students,” the group said in a letter Tuesday to the one of the deans of the Faculty of Law.
The flap caught the attention of Slate magazine. The author of this article, Mark Joseph Stern, was the guest speaker in a Federalist Society conversation that Mr. Wallace said he organized about a month after sending the satirical email.
Mr. Wallace’s case was also championed by Laurence H. Tribe, professor emeritus of constitutional law at Harvard University.
“Mocking an ideologically based group cannot be used as a basis for denying academic privileges in any open society worthy of respect,” Tribe wrote on Twitter. “If correct, this report shows that Stanford Law School does not deserve to be treated as an academic institution.”
George T. Conway III, one of the founders of the anti-Trump group Lincoln Project, also joined Mr. Wallace.
“As someone who has been involved with the Federalist Society for over 35 years, I agree that this is totally ridiculous,” Mr. Conway said on Twitter, responding to Mr. Tribe.
Mr Wallace, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., And received his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, said he was due to take the bar exam this summer in his state original, then start work with the federal government. Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, DC
He said he could not have taken the bar exam without his law degree, which he will receive on June 12.